By Deb Murphy
Opening statements were made by the defense and prosecution in the Dawndee Rossy trial Monday morning, outlining what will be proven on the part of Inyo County District Attorney Thomas Hardy and what won’t be proven according to defense attorney David Evans.
Hardy talked of a “pattern of criminal behavior,” alleging that Rossy “took for her own benefit” $1.5 million from accounts for either false beneficiaries or “real people used to create family units eligible for (those) benefits.”
“There are a lot of small parts,” Hardy concluded, “that form a cohesive whole of false accounts to gain public benefits.”
Rossy is being tried on 137 counts, the primary being embezzling funds as a supervisor in the County’s Health and Human Services’ Employment and Eligibility Department from 2009 to early 2013.
Evans provided a preview of Rossy’s defense. “She has accepted responsibility for misappropriation of funds,” he said. “She has admitted to doing ‘bad things.’ But the $1.5 million is grossly exaggerated.” Evans, asking that the court look at the evidence with “great scrutiny,” said there would be no expenditures shown to reflect that amount of money.”
Evans asked appointed Judge Philip Argento to exclude all previous Rossy statements. Argento said he would re-consider his previous ruling on the matter but the “statements will stand for now.”
One of those statements included a confession during Rossy’s initial interview with Bishop Police Officer Mark Gutierrez on January 17, 2013, the day after he was appointed to the investigation by former Chief Chris Carter.
That interview took place three days after Human Resources Director Sue Dishion was notified of irregularities in Rossy’s case files. Gutierrez began the interview by telling Rossy they already had the documentation that indicated they had the “right person. We just want to know why,” he said.
Rossy admitted she had been withdrawing funds on Electronic Benefit Transaction cards for fictitious accounts. She would use the state computer system to find Social Security numbers, then make up names and load funds into those accounts.
Withdrawals were made at area banks using the EBT cards made on a machine in Rossy’s office on May Street in Bishop. She admitted to coming up with 10 to 12 fictitious cards, two or three of which were still open as of the interview date.
She also said the only other person using those cards was her husband Kenneth Rossy and nobody in her office knew what was going on. As to the why, Rossy said her husband was unemployed and the money was used “to make ends meet.”
Following the tape, Hardy set up a series of surveillance videos and stills collected from El Dorado Bank, Bank of America and Alta One as well as ATMs at Manor Market and Bishop Creek Chevron. Gutierrez indicated that the surveillance tapes were correlated to dates and times from a list of EBT transactions provided by Dishion.
During the viewing and identification of those photos, no information was provided as to the date and time they were taken and how they correlated to the EBT list.
Some of the stills were clear, many were not, but all were identified as either Dawndee or Kenneth Rossy by Gutierrez. The officer identified the vehicle shown at the drive-up window at Alta One as belonging to Rossy because he had seen them driving around in the Ford pick-up. In one shot, the vehicle was a silver SUV that Gutierrez could not identify, but could identify Dawndee Rossy in a fuzzy face shot. Seven different surveillance shots or series of shots were shown.
Under cross-examination by Evans, Gutierrez testified that he had spoken to former DA Art Maillet and Dishion prior to the Rossy interview and that no independent investigation had taken place. During the cross, Gutierrez said he no longer had the original transaction list that also included the names of those to whom the cards were issued; Hardy said he had never seen that specific list.
During the afternoon session, Hardy called four current or former H&HS employees who worked with Rossy during the time frame the funds were alleged to have been taken. All four Integrated Case Workers provided an overview of how the department worked.
Prior to the fall of 2012, case workers had specific files, completing the work necessary to determine eligibility for benefits. A new system, CIV, was introduced in late 2012 and the case workers all had access to those files, performing specific tasks for clients. As a supervisor, Rossy assigned and reviewed case work, did the work required on confidential cases, those involving either county employees or their families, and on Welfare to Work cases.
Rene Fuller testified she was working on reports that included a request to get correction information from the state system on Brandi Lyons, a case assigned to Rossy. The issue was inconsistency in Lyons social security number. The other anomaly Fuller noted in the file was the lack of case notes in the file’s journal log. Fuller testified that case workers made notations in the file’s log each time they accessed the file, but Lyon’s file had no caseworker notes from Rossy.
She also indicated the case was a Non-Needy Caretaker whose children were eligible for benefits, but not the caretaker. Those cases usually reflected a consistent benefit payment but Lyon’s file showed fluctuating benefit funding, more consistent with ancillary payments for specific needs.
She reported the discrepancies to Dishion, explaining that “if this as what it looked like it was, I was afraid it would be brushed under the rug” if she reported it to department heads.
Kelly Piper testified to receiving a call from another County department requesting information on a case of two children on MediCal. The case file had been closed on the department’s CIV system but the state system indicated it was still active. The last person with access to the file was Rossy.
In addition, “there were more benefits than I’ve ever seen before,” she said, with payments running into the thousands of dollars. Piper could not confirm that it was the Lyons file or another case.
Piper discussed the case with Allison Krohn who later testified to the irregularities.
Jennifer Esparza was assigned bi-lingual cases from Bishop and Lone Pine and first noticed irregularities when a department mailing was returned to the office with an incomplete address.
The addressee was a Hispanic name Esparza did not recognize. Checking the computer system, Esparza saw supplemental payments on top of monthly payments with none of the required documentation. The case was Rossy’s.
Testimony continues; the trial is expected to take several weeks.