A former Oregon Health Authority employee faces a 21-count indictment over an alleged embezzlement scheme that siphoned nearly $1.5 million in fraudulent COVID-19 relief payments to a sham company.
A Marion County grand jury indicted the former authority employee, Marzieh Abedin, and the Department of Justice has requested a warrant for her arrest, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said Wednesday.
Oregon Department of Justice investigators started to dig into the case in November, when the health authority reported the fraud to that agency’s criminal division.
At the health authority, Abedin coordinated the approval of vendors requesting payments from OHA for services related to the COVID-19 vaccination response. The payments came from Federal Emergency Management Agency COVID-19 funds that the health authority distributes.
The criminal investigation found that she created fraudulent invoices for a sham company and generated fake records, according to the Oregon Department of Justice. Those records allegedly allowed Abedin to authorize payments to fraudulent bank accounts she opened.
“Fortunately this fraud was caught by OHA and immediately referred to our Criminal Justice team,” Rosenblum said in a statement. “We were able to quickly follow the money through various bank accounts and recover nearly all of it. Let this be a warning to anyone looking to personally benefit from a public health emergency—no one, state employee or otherwise, is above the law.”
Of the nearly $1.5 million, only $6,821 is not recovered, according to the Department of Justice.
In March 2021, Abedin began as a program analyst in the authority's COVID-19 Response and Recovery Unit and left the agency in January, authority officials said. Her monthly salary was $7,107.
"Oregon Health Authority takes seriously its responsibility for ensuring appropriate use of federal COVID-19 response funds it manages," authority spokesman Jonathan Modie said in a statement. "OHA uncovered the alleged fraudulent activity described by the Oregon Department of Justice after suspicious invoices and payments for an unknown business were identified by an outside contractor hired to reconcile FEMA invoices and payments for OHA."
The authority placed Abedin on administrative leave and notified investigators, Modie said.
The felony charges are: one count of first-degree theft; six counts of first-degree forgery; two counts of Identity theft; five counts of aggravated first-degree theft, five counts of aggravated identity theft; and one count of computer crime. She also is charged with first-degree official misconduct, a misdemeanor.
The indictment alleges the activity started in June 2021 and continued until November, when the investigation started.
The health authority has received more than $500 million in federal COVID-19 funds.