Woman to repay fraudulently collected victim relief funds

Friday, September 26, 2003

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A St. Joseph woman who invented a story of a brother dying in the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center must repay $63,818 she received from post-Sept. 11, 2001, victim relief funds, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

Cassaundrea E. Montgomery, 42, must also spend 21 months in federal prison followed by three years' supervised probation as part of the sentence imposed Thursday by U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey.

Montgomery pleaded guilty earlier Thursday to four counts of mail fraud on which she was indicted last December after authorities determined that "Jeffrey David Montgomery" and an elaborate paper trail documenting his existence were fabrications. Prosecutors dropped six other counts of mail fraud.

Jeffrey was supposedly a 24-year-old student who phoned Montgomery at 7:50 a.m. on Sept. 11 while taking an elevator to the top of 1 World Trade Center, where he planned to leave a resume at Cantor Fitzgerald. That company, a bond brokerage, lost 658 employees when a hijacked jetliner was flown into the tower.

Laughrey gave Montgomery the maximum sentence permitted by the plea agreement, then criticized her "heinous, twisted" defrauding of the American Red Cross and three New York-based groups that distributed donated funds.

"You desecrated the memory of the victims by attempting to profit personally" from the terrorist attacks, Laughrey told Montgomery, who sat at the defense table in handcuffs and shackles.

Montgomery, who prosecutors said spent the relief money on rent, various bills and a new car, declined to make a statement before the judge imposed sentence.

During the plea portion of the proceedings, however, she said in response to a question that she has been taking anti-anxiety, anti-depression and other prescription drugs while in custody awaiting trial.

"They probably cleared up my judgment some," Montgomery said of the drugs.

Montgomery's scheme began when she called New York City police on Sept. 25, 2001, to file a missing person report on the fictitious brother who she claimed shared her St. Joseph apartment and supported her financially.

She then began soliciting money from victim relief groups, backing up her requests with fabricated tax records, credit card bills and other documents.

From the Red Cross alone, Montgomery received seven checks totaling $38,818 from Oct. 23 to Dec. 26, 2001. During that same span, she also got money from three New York-based groups -- $10,000 from the Safe Horizons fund, $10,000 from The September 11th Fund and $5,000 from the Robin Hood fund.

Montgomery must repay the entire $63,318, the judge said, even though her guilty pleas involved just four checks totaling $42,218.

The money is to be paid back once Montgomery is out of prison in monthly installments of $300 or 10 percent of her gross income, whichever is greater.

At least one New York relief fund never fulfilled a request from Montgomery. That was the World Trade Center Relief fund, which responded to her February 2002 application by asking to see the brother's death certificate, according to the indictment.

Montgomery later made several calls to ask about the status of that request -- at one point sending an e-mail to New York Gov. George Pataki seeking help in expediting the application.

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