Meoshi Nelson Williams, whose group homes were the focus of last week’s Lagniappe cover story, was remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service for probation violations on Jan. 24.
U.S. District Judge Terry F. Moorer imposed on her a 24-month prison sentence and an additional year of federal probation despite pleas from Williams and her attorney that sending her to prison would prevent her from paying restitution to victims of the fraud scheme she pleaded guilty to in 2015.
Williams’s arrest has also left the fate of vulnerable residents in her group homes up to local agencies.
Several of Williams’s so-called “boarding homes” have operated in the Mobile area since 2013. Through a lengthy investigation and interviews with former employees and residents, Lagniappe has documented the services Williams provided in at least some of these homes were more closely akin to that which would normally be provided in state-regulated group homes or, in some cases, licensed nursing homes.
However, public records indicate Williams’s homes, which there were as many as 10 of at various points over the past five years, weren’t licensed with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) or the Alabama Department of Mental Health (ADMH) — the agencies charged with regulating nursing homes and group homes for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled, respectively.
Williams was indicted in federal court on three counts of wire fraud in late December — allegations that accuse her of conspiring to defraud the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) by listing her daughter, Raven Nelson, as the representative payee for benefits collected by at least six residents in her homes.
Together, they are accused of defrauding SSA of more than $306,000 between 2016 and 2018.
The indictment accuses Williams of shifting the benefits to her daughter’s name after SSA learned — two years later — Williams was ineligible to receive federal benefits because of a federal conviction from 2015 for fraudulently claiming more than $100,000 in lost income after the BP oil spill.
In her 2015 plea agreement, Nelson admitted to fraudulently claiming lost income after the spill and to at least assisting with other fraudulent claims submitted in the names of her daughter, sister, sister-in-law and former husband. She was sentenced to probation and ordered to pay $122,900 in restitution.
However, over the last year, Williams has run into legal trouble because of alleged violations of that five-year probation for an undisclosed trip out of the country, a line of credit she opened in violation of her terms of release and her failure to meet the requirements of her restitution payments.
In court last week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Leah Ann Butler noted Williams took a cruise to Mexico last year without notifying her probation officer, and — despite opening up a new line of credit for a Mercedes Benz and a new truck — failed to make any restitution payments from July 2018 to July 2019.
Williams told the court she was sorry, adding she has since closed the new lines of credit she opened and she took her obligation to her victims seriously. In regards to the trip out of the country, Williams told the court her husband surprised her with the planned cruise because she had been depressed after a resident in one of her group homes passed away. She said her husband didn’t know she was a convicted felon, she was on federal probation or she still owed tens of thousands of dollars in restitution.
She also pleaded with the court to keep her out of jail so she could continue to operate her group homes, despite having been ordered to shut them down. Based on the information presented by her probation officer and prosecutors, Moorer said he wasn’t convinced Williams took her probation seriously.
“I don’t second-guess the sentences of other judges, but getting probation for this amount of criminal activity is a real showing of leniency. One would think that would be reciprocated by adhering to the conditions of your supervised release,” he said. “Your demeanor and actions have been just the opposite. To me, your demeanor seems to say, ‘If I don’t get caught, it’s OK.’”
With that, he remanded Williams into the custody of U.S. Marshals to serve a sentence of a year and nine months in federal prison. However, it’s likely she could face more time if convicted of the new charges she’ll face later this year. She’s pleaded not guilty and a trial is currently scheduled in March.
As part of her pretrial release, Williams was ordered to shut down her group homes and help have residents safely relocated by Jan. 23 in case she was sent to prison for probation violations the following day. That is ultimately what happened, though it’s unclear whether Williams was able to have the residents relocated as she had requested an extension just a few days before the hearing.
U.S. Attorney Richard Moore’s office wasn’t immediately able to say what has happened to the residents since Williams’s arrest, though prosecutors have previously indicated they’ve been coordinating with local representatives from ADPH to help find housing for them.
In court documents responding to the recent indictment, Williams argues she is not currently the “Social Security representative payee” for any of her residents. Instead, she says residents in her homes had family members act as their “representative payee” or they were capable of handling their own finances.
Her attorney, Buzz Jordan, has said as of Jan. 22, she still had 32 residents in four houses in Mobile County — all of whom are “highly functional” and capable of performing their activities of daily living. That is an important designation because facilities that assist residents with medication, feeding, grooming or other “daily living skills,” like nursing homes, are supposed to be licensed through ADPH.
In court, Williams said residents in her group homes were “like my family” and she helped them comb their hair, cut their nails and took them to their various appointments. As Lagniappe has reported, some former residents and a former employee have disputed Williams’s characterization of her business.
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