The jury hearing a trial of a former Assembly candidate for Permanent Fund Dividend fraud heard opening statements, witness testimony and the prosecution rest — all in one day.
The trial of Loretto Lee Jones, 65, for unsworn falsification and theft in 2016, saw its first day of witnesses on Thursday. Prosecuting attorney Lisa Kelley, assistant attorney general, opened with an appeal to logic.
“She said, by her own admission, that she was gone for at least 205 days in 2015. Ms. Jones falsified the application for her PFD and continued to lie about it,” Kelley said in her opening statement. “The individual doesn’t decide what’s allowable. The division decides what’s allowable. That’s it. That’s this case.”
Defense attorney Deborah Macaulay, a member of the Alaska’s Public Defender’s Agency, countered with a defense based on Jones’ intent.
“We’re here to determine if a person who lives in Alaska — who is one of us — would lie on her PFD when she believed she was absolutely eligible,” Macaulay said during her opening statement. “Ultimately what the government has to show you Loretto is a liar is a bunch of paper. What it doesn’t have to show is her intent. A criminal trial relies on intent.”
The prosecution brought forth their most important witness, the fraud investigator who was assigned to Jones’ PFD application. Nate Imes is a member of the Alaska Department of Revenue’s criminal investigations unit. One of two members of the unit who deals with PFD fraud, Imes was the individual to initially interview Jones back in 2016 when it came to the state’s attention that there were inconsistencies in her PFD application for 2015.
“The allegation was similar to many allegations that were received,” Imes testified during direct examination. “That Ms. Jones had been out of state for a significant amount of time in the year was in question.”
Imes said that the state had been notified by a tip called in from someone who lived around Jones. Phone and email tips are common starting points in fraud cases, Imes said. Many of these cases never enter into full investigations, but it’s not unheard of. Imes said that Jones contacted another investigator and insisted “adamantly” to be interviewed to clear up any issues.
“The whole reason meeting you face-to-face is to bring you information so we can get to the bottom of it,” says Jones on the audio recording of the 2016 interview.
During the interview, Imes goes over her living situation in 2015 with Jones. On the audio, she’s confident that she spent less than 90 days out of the state, though she’s not clear on the dates she departed and arrived.
Imes said with Jones’ help, as she was able to produce ferry and airline tickets, she was out of state for at least 205 days and possibly as many as 260, making her ineligible for the PFD for that year, which carries the requirement of spending no more than 180 days out of state, barring certain exceptions for military personnel.
Bobbi Scherrer, the PFD division appeals manager, also testified about the actual PFD application mechanism, including how the website works.
The trial will continue on Friday at 10 a.m.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or email@example.com.