An appeal will be filed to challenge the prison sentence imposed on Rita Hunter, former Jasper County public administrator.
U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple on June 20 sentenced Hunter to a year and a day in federal prison. She pleaded guilty in November to document fraud, a charge alleging that she illegally obtained federal benefits on behalf of wards of her office.
The notice of appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was filed by Ian Lewis, who served as public defender for Hunter.
“We believe we have an argument for appeal and to have the sentence reversed,” Lewis said Tuesday.
The appeal will not affect Hunter’s guilty plea, and she still will be expected to surrender on Aug. 1 to start her prison sentence, Lewis said. “Until the court rules, everything goes ahead,” he said.
He said the earliest that appeal arguments might be heard is in December, after written arguments are filed by each side. Lewis acknowledged that Hunter’s sentence was the result of a plea agreement, but he said she still is entitled to appeal the sentence and restitution order by the judge.
In the sentencing hearing before Whipple, Lewis had argued that his client should not go to prison but should be placed on five years of probation. He noted that Hunter is 60 years old and on disability, suffering from heart disease and stenosis.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Randall Eggert did not argue for a specific sentence. But Whipple, calling Hunter’s conduct in office “very egregious,” sentenced her to a year in prison. He then agreed to Lewis’ request that the sentence be changed to a year and a day, making Hunter eligible for release after serving 85 percent of her sentence, based on good behavior.
Whipple also chastised Hunter for the false reports made by her office over a three-year period that generated $120,000 in unlawful Medicaid payments. He ordered that amount be paid as restitution by Hunter and the insurance company that held her bond while she was public administrator.
Hunter’s bond was $100,000. The judge “attached the bond” as part of the sentence, and said Hunter and the bonding company would be liable for the restitution, which would reimburse the agencies whose funds were unlawfully taken.
The judge also sentenced Hunter to three years of probation after prison. While she is on probation and before she surrenders for incarceration, Whipple said, she is to observe a curfew, abstain from alcohol and allow searches of her home by federal authorities.
In the document fraud charge to which Hunter pleaded guilty, she was accused of directing her employees to submit materially false Medicaid applications for wards under the custody of the administrator’s office. The applications falsely stated that the wards had assets below the $1,000 threshold to be eligible to receive Medicaid benefits, when in fact the wards had assets of more than $1,000.
Notice of appeal filed in wake of sentencing of ex-county official; Rita Hunter must still surrender for prison term
July 2, 2013
The Joplin Globe