A former Illinois Department of Children and Family Services employee is accused of stealing at least $1.6 million in funds. Federal officials say the money was meant for daycare services. They say the worker instead spent the money at an Illinois casino.
Investigators say the scheme unfolded over several years. The Illinois Office of the Inspector General and Illinois State Police began investigating in August 2022 at the request of the employee’s direct supervisor. The FBI joined the investigation in November.
Gambling at Illinois casinos allegedly fueled by bribes
Shauntelle Pridgeon, 54, of Chicago, was charged in federal court with a criminal count of honest services fraud. According to a federal complaint, she was employed as a Social Service Community Planner with DCFS from 2015 to August 2022. Her job was to review and approve daycare providers for children that were under DCFS supervision.
The complaint alleges Pridgeon accepted bribes from numerous people in exchange for her favorable consideration of their applications to be childcare providers to children in foster care over the course of multiple years.
Between 2016 and 2022, a bank account belonging to Pridgeon and her husband received approximately $1.6 million in undisclosed payments from at least 12 different people who were registered with DCFS as childcare providers. Under the scheme, providers would receive DCFS payments and then give over half of that money to Pridgeon, according to the findings of an FBI agent.
During this time, officials claim Pridgeon made numerous trips to an unnamed Illinois casino where she gambled “extensively.” The investigation found that she spent most of her time playing slot machines.
The complaint says Pridgeon often paid her gambling-related expenses using money she received from the childcare providers. She allegedly spent $3.7 million at slot machines between January 2015 and November 2022. She won $1.7 million gambling, but that was outbalanced by the $2.2 million she lost on the casino floor.
Investigators: Family Services suspect tossed evidence in the garbage
The scheme began to unravel last August. That’s when Pridgeon’s direct supervisor noticed several irregularities with her paperwork. In one instance, Pridgeon had approved a childcare provider who was paid about $280,000 but was not actually offering childcare services. The supervisor asked Pridgeon for records to help explain what happened, but Pridgeon claimed the files were missing.
Investigators say the supervisor asked another employee to find the missing files. Pridgeon allegedly then rushed to a file room where she grabbed the records from the other worker before tossing them in the trash. Thankfully, the forms were eventually recovered.
DCFS spokesperson Heather Tarczan says the organization acted properly when they discovered what was happening.
“As soon as DCFS discovered inconsistencies in day care-related accounting, we notified the authorities immediately and requested a full investigation into this matter,” said Tarczan. “The agency has followed all appropriate steps for putting this employee on leave pending investigation. With today’s indictment, the agency with take the next steps in the disciplinary process.”
The supervisor called the Illinois Office of the Inspector General and the Illinois State Police to investigate. In November, FBI agents got involved.
Pridgeon was released on her own recognizance. Her case will take place in federal court. If you’re convicted of honest services fraud, you can face the same penalties as with other types of mail, wire or health care fraud, which can be up to 20 years in prison or sometimes up to 30 years.