Couple guilty in $53,000 welfare fraud

Mesa County to ask judge to order full financial restitution

An Aurora couple, including a former Mesa County Department of Human Services caseworker, will serve probation under the terms of a plea agreement stemming from what authorities have called Mesa County’s largest welfare fraud prosecution.

Tony Padilla Jr., 46, and his wife, Venica, 42, pleaded guilty Monday to single counts of theft of more than $500 but less than $15,000 before District Judge Brian Flynn. In exchange, the District Attorney’s Office moved to dismiss 27 charges.

“This is to my benefit financially,” Tony Padilla said, when asked by the judge why he wanted to plead guilty.

“I just want to get it over with,” he added.

The plea agreement calls for probation for Tony Padilla, along with the possibility of a sentence in the Mesa County Jail. He has prior felony convictions for auto theft in 1984, second-degree assault in 1994 and menacing with a deadly weapon in 2006.

Venica Padilla’s plea deal calls for probation and a four-year deferred judgment, meaning she could potentially erase the theft conviction if she stays out of trouble for the next four years. She has no prior criminal record.

The Padillas also will owe restitution to the county’s Department of Human Services.

Susan Skyberg, supervisor of fraud investigations with the Mesa County Department of Human Services, said they’ll ask a judge to order a full repayment of more than $53,000.

The Padillas were charged in September 2011 with stealing more than $53,000 worth of adoption-subsidy assistance by falsely claiming they were supporting two adopted daughters between September 2003 and November 2009, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

The subsidy includes a monthly stipend for parents of adopted children with special needs until the child turns 18.
The investigation showed the Padillas took assistance from the program despite the fact the two girls in question weren’t living in their home. They didn’t financially support the girls’ caretakers, either, the affidavit said.

Interviewed in August 2010, Venica Padilla initially told investigators she didn’t understand the paperwork, the affidavit said.

Venica Padilla was a senior case manager with the Mesa County Department of Human Services’ child welfare division at the time the crimes were committed. She was a case manager between March 1994 and April 2005, before rejoining the organization in May 2007. She also worked one year for the child welfare division of the Colorado Department of Human Services.

She left Mesa County in October 2010, two months after being questioned in the fraud probe.

The Padillas will be sentenced June 3.

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