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Woman pleads guilty to theft from Metro East charity

Kenesha Burlison, 40, of St. Louis, pleaded guilty on Thursday, Feb.10, to a two-count felony information charging her with theft from an organization receiving federal funds and aggravated identity theft.

Burlison served as the director of Human Relations for Call for Help Inc.,  beginning in 2016. Call for Help is a longstanding charitable organization in East St. Louis that helps people overcome a variety of personal crises, ranging from sexual assault and poverty to homelessness and mental health issues. The organization receives federal funds annually to assist in carrying out its mission.

“Federal charges, carrying a mandatory minimum prison sentence, were appropriate here because the defendant  stole  so  much  money  that  would  have  provided  needed  services  to  vulnerable  victims,  including sexual assault survivors and the homeless,” said U.S. Attorney Steven D. Weinhoeft.

“An organization dedicated to assisting victims of trauma and families in crisis holds high expectations for honesty and integrity from its director,”  said FBI Special Agent in Charge David Nanz.   “Kenesha Burlison demonstrated bold disregard for her co-workers and the people who depend on Call for Help to  survive.

According to court documents, Burlison fraudulently obtained a cashier’s check from Call for Help in the amount of $69,788.62, which she used to pay the down payment for a home she was purchasing. Burlison told  Call  for  Help  that  she  needed  a  cashier’s  check  to  provide  to  the  title  company  and  claimed that she couldn’t get one from her bank because it was closed. In exchange for the cashier’s check, Burlison provided Call for Help with a personal check in the amount of $70,000. That check, as well as two others provided by Burlison in the coming months, bounced for insufficient funds.

Following  her  termination  from  the  organization,  Call  for  Help  discovered  that  Burlison had  also  fraudulently submitted requests for reimbursements that she was not entitled to from the organization that exceeded $100,000. These reimbursements were paid to Burlison.

In addition to the charge relating to her theft from Call for Help, Burlison also pled guilty to aggravated identity  theft.  Court  documents  alleged  that,  in  connection  with  her  mortgage  application,  Burlison  submitted a fraudulent income verification with a forged signature of the director of Quality Assurance at Call for Help.

Theft from an organization receiving federal funds carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and  a  fine  of  up  to  $250,000.  Burlison  faces  a  mandatory sentence  of  two  years’  imprisonment  for aggravated identity theft, which must run consecutive to any sentence imposed on the fraud count. In addition, Burlison could also be ordered to pay restitution to her victims. Burlison is scheduled to be sentenced on May 26. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The investigation was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation – Springfield Division. Assistant United States Attorney Zoe J. Gross is  prosecuting the case.

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