Felony warrants have been issued for a couple, who used to own the Dollar Bell stores in Cambridge and Princeton, for allegedly obtaining nearly $45,000 illegally in public assistance.
Kevin Robert Bell, 53, and his wife, Debra Kay Sommars Bell, 50, both formerly of Cambridge, are believed to be living in New Port Richey, Fla.
The Bells have been charged in Isanti County with felony, wrongfully obtaining assistance – theft by false statements, concealment, impersonation; and two counts of felony theft by swindle.
Due to the Bells’ failure to report their income, they allegedly fraudulently received $5,589 in medical assistance benefits, $29,892 in MinnesotaCare benefits and $8,877 in food support for a total overpayment and theft of $44,359 from Sept. 10, 2008, through Oct. 31, 2012.
The case began to take shape May 29, 2012, when an investigator with Isanti County Family Services received a fraud prevention referral in that the Bells turned in their six-month combined report and reported they didn’t have any income coming into the household. The investigator was requested to verify how they were paying their living expenses.
“Due to the fact that Kevin and Debra Bell are no longer in the jurisdiction, a complaint warrant was issued,” Isanti County Attorney Jeff Edblad said. “Despite the defendants being aware of this warrant for several months, they have yet to turn themselves in on the warrant and avail themselves to the jurisdiction of the court.
“It is my understanding they are currently living in one of the homes they own in Florida and I have notified the Florida authorities of the warrant and my willingness to extradite them back to Minnesota to be held accountable for this theft of taxpayer dollars. The warrant remains active and my hope is that since they have been unwilling to make themselves available on the warrant, they will be apprehended and extradited. I look forward to their being brought to justice back in Isanti County,” Edblad added.
An Isanti couple has also been charged with felony theft for allegedly receiving an overpayment of $11,195 in medical benefits.
Douglas Charles Skaug, 55, and Amy Ellen Meyer, 46, were charged in late April with felony wrongfully obtaining assistance by theft by false statements, concealment or impersonation; and felony theft by swindle.
Skaug pled not guilty to the charges July 11, and a settlement conference is scheduled for Oct. 29. Meyer has a contest omnibus hearing scheduled for Aug. 14.
“These cases are very similar in that all involve the defendants receiving large amounts of public assistance from the tax dollars of Isanti County residents while the defendants owned considerable assets (multiple residences in Florida for the Bells and automotive repair business for Skaug, as well as having large amounts of money flowing through their various bank accounts, including up to six figures in the Bells’ account),” Edblad said. “Public assistance dollars come from the local taxpayers and this hard-earned resource is not a bottomless pit of money available, so it is important that it goes only to those individuals who truly are in a position in life where they need that money to feed and take care of their families’ basic existence. Public assistance dollars are not there to subsidize business owners or allow people to live a ‘lifestyle of the rich and famous’ with multiple homes in Florida. The citizens of Isanti County are very fortunate to have the skill and tenacity of a very good Isanti County fraud investigator protecting their tax dollars and resources through her aggressive investigations into these fraud cases.”
According to the criminal complaint
On Sept. 10, 2008, the Bells turned in an application for medical assistance with Isanti County. On their initial application, they reported that Debra Bell’s job ended Sept. 8, 2008 with a monthly income of $450. At this time, Kevin Bell reported he was employed by KevDebra Designs Inc., making $700 per month. Based upon this initial information, they were eligible to receive, and began to receive, medical assistance.
On March 5, 2009, the Bells completed a combined six-month report and they reported that Debra Bell was employed by Deb’s Designs makings $754 per month.
In regard to questions inquiring about other sources of income besides work, such as rental income, trusts or annuities, etc., they reported they had no other means of income. They also indicated they didn’t own any stocks, bonds, retirement accounts, etc. or other assets. Based upon what they reported, they remained eligible and continued to receive medical assistance.
On April 30, 2009, the Bells’ medical assistance case had closed and they made an application for MinnesotaCare through the state of Minnesota. On all of their applications and renewals with MinnesotaCare, they continued to report no income or assets.
On Jan. 5, 2011, the Bells applied for food support with Isanti County. On this application, they were asked if anyone in the household were self-employed or if anyone expected to get income from self employment this month or next month, and they checked yes, and reported Debra Bell’s income from Avon sales.
Another question asked if anyone in the household owns or is buying cash, bank accounts, vehicles, other assets, life and burial insurance, stocks, bonds, annuities, etc. and they both checked yes for real estate, reporting the home they lived in at 2796 Garfield Place in Cambridge was in a trust in the Bell Family Trust. Based upon this application for food support, the Bells began receiving food support.
On Dec. 12, 2011, the Bells completed their recertification for food support. Based on their responses regarding income, they continued to receive food support.
On May 21, 2012, the Bells completed a combined six-month report. Based on their responses regarding income, owning stocks or bonds, owning property or rental property, they continued to receive food support.
On May 30, 2012, the investigator ran Kevin and Debra Bell’s credit reports and learned that Kevin Bell had a mortgage through Wells Fargo with a monthly payment of $2,037 and the payments were current. He also had an auto lease through Toyota Financial with a monthly payment of $429 and the payments were current. Debra Bell has monthly revolving payments of $68 per month. The total monthly payments for the Bell household was $2,604 per month, not including any other household and basic living expenses.
On June 1, 2012, the investigator received bank records from MinnCo Credit Union. The Bells reported this bank account on all of their applications; however, the records disclosed that Debra Bell has a PayPal account from which she receives income averaging approximately $100 per month. The investigator received confirmation that Debra Bell had an account with PayPal, which was opened in 2003. The account showed Debra Bell had received payments in June 2012 in the amount of $672; in May 2012 in the amount of $210; in April 2012 in the amount of $568 and a payment in March 2012 in the amount of $746, which would be income amounts that would not cover their living expenses.
Bells meet with investigators
On Aug. 2, 2012, the investigator met with the Bells. She advised them that they did not have to speak with her and were free to leave at anytime.
The Bells were asked how they were paying their living expenses, and Kevin Bell stated that his mother paid all of their bills. When asked if either of them were working, they both stated no. The investigator asked if either them expected to start work in the near future. Kevin Bell stated he had something in the works, but was not able to find a job.
Debra Bell stated they were selling personal stuff and they had kept a lot of personal needs items from the stores that they had closed. When Debra Bell was asked how much money she had made by selling this stuff, she stated around $200 to $300.
She asked them if they had a mortgage on the home, and Kevin Bell stated that the mortgage is in his mother’s name and that it was her house. She then asked them if she ran a credit report if she would find a mortgage, car loan or anything else in either of their names.
Kevin Bell again stated the mortgage was in his mother’s name and she may see a car lease in his name, but his mother paid that as well. They were asked if they were behind on their household utilities, and they stated no. They were then asked how much their household utilities are per month, Kevin Bell stated he had no idea because his mother paid those directly.
When asked about homeowner’s and auto insurance, Kevin Bell again stated his mother paid all those bills. When asked where the bills were sent to, Kevin Bell stated they went to his mother and he never sees them. They both denied having any source of income, and claimed Kevin Bell’s mother was paying all of their bills, and were living off of leftover items from their store and the food support benefits they had been receiving.
Bank accounts, property searches
On Aug. 7, 2012, the fraud investigator contacted the city of Cambridge regarding the Bell’s water bill. The investigator learned the account and billing was in the name of Kevin Bell with the service provided at 2796 Garfield Place and the account was current.
She then contacted East Central Sanitation, where she learned the account and billing was also in the name of Kevin Bell with service at Garfield Place, and the account was current and paid by check. East Central Energy then reported to the investigator that the account and billing for their services was in the name of Kevin Bell for the address at Garfield Place and that account was also current. She then contacted East Central Energy and was supplied with copies of the checks that Kevin Bell wrote to pay this account. The account was out of Cambridge State Bank in the name of Bell Family Trust “A” with the address at Garfield Place. At no time did the Bells report this bank account on any applications for public assistance.
On Aug. 7, 2012, the investigator contacted Cambridge State Bank and requested bank records for any and all accounts for the Bells. She learned deposits were made each month into the Bell Family Trust account totaling $107,880 from August 2011 through July 31, 2012.
While examining the account, she discovered there were regular monthly payments made into the account where the remitter noted “rental payment” or “lease payment.” It was also discovered there were regular monthly electronic deposits from the Tampa Housing Authority in Tampa, Fla.
She then conducted a property search on the property addresses disclosed in the Bell’s bank account. She learned all of the properties listed Kevin Bell as the owner with the mailing address at Garfield Place. There are seven different addresses in Florida generating rental or lease income with payments being made to Kevin Bell and deposited into the Bell Family Trust account at Cambridge State Bank.
The investigator reviewed bank statements and checks from Cambridge State Bank showing withdrawals and checks written for the Bell’s living expenses and personal needs.
She discovered that Kevin Bell was the remitter of a cashier’s check dated September 2010 for $4,321, which was deposited into the Bell Family Trust account from the Sherburne State Bank in Princeton. The Bells had reported this bank account one time on their application dated Jan. 5, 2011.
A request was then made for records from Sherburne State Bank. Records from that bank revealed the accounts were in the name of McQueen Industries, doing business as Dollar Bell.
The Bells had owned and operated a store called Dollar Bell and reported this store had gone out of business in December 2010. It was discovered the Bells had income from the business that was not reported from January 2011 through Aug. 31, 2011 when the account was closed.
On Aug. 30, 2012, the investigator received information the Bells had moved from Cambridge. She then contacted East Central Sanitation and learned they had paid their bill in full and canceled their service as of Aug. 28, 2012, and had left no forwarding address.
The investigator went to the residence and noted it appeared no one was living there. A postal verification was requested and it was reported the Bells’ current address is in New Port Richey, Fla.
Details regarding Skaug, Meyer case
According to the criminal complaint, Skaug had periodically received public assistance in the form of medical assistance through Isanti County from Dec. 1, 2009, through May 2012. The complaint alleges Skaug intentionally falsified applications and recertifications by not reporting income to obtain public assistance.
In January 2012, Skaug completed an authorized representative request and release form requesting that Meyer be his authorized representative.
Also in January 2012, an Isanti County fraud investigator learned that Skaug owned Parker Automotive Repair in Center City and had a contract with the Chisago County Sheriff’s Department to repair and maintain squad cars. The investigator learned Skaug had opened another automotive repair shop in North Branch.
Investigators learned Skaug and Meyer had six bank accounts with Wells Fargo. As the investigators examined the bank records, they learned Skaug and Meyer co-own or own at least three properties and have rental income from these properties.
Records revealed monthly deposits between March 2011 and January 2012 into the rental accounts totaled $40,088.
Bank records also showed monthly deposits made into an account for Parker Automotive Repair between March 2011 and February 2012 totaled $330,802.
Investigators found that the total amount of medical benefits fraudulently received by Skaug and Meyer resulted in an overpayment of $11,195.