East St. Louis, Ill – Kenesha Burlison, 40, of St. Louis, Missouri, pled guilty on Thursday, February 10, 2022, 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, Illinois, 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. The FBI is dedicated to investigating those, like Burlison, who choose to deceive and defraud others while stealing taxpayer dollars.”
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, 2022. 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.