Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Teen Challenge Program Director Will Not Get Jail Time For Stealing Client Benefits/Welfare Fraud - StarBulletin Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Pastor will not
get jail time in
welfare fraud

The Rev. John Elleson ran
a substance abuse program for teens

By Debra Barayuga

The former executive director of the local chapter of Teen Challenge, accused of obtaining $49,000 in excess welfare benefits, will not serve prison time if he stays out of trouble for five years.The Rev. John Elleson, 39, of Mililani, who with his wife, Suzanne Elleson, ran the Christian-oriented organization that helped teens recover from drug and alcohol addiction, was granted a deferral of his no-contest plea to first-degree theft yesterday and ordered to comply with conditions similar to probation.
Circuit Judge Victoria Marks also ordered Elleson to repay $49,000 the organization received as a result of his lies to the state Department of Human Services.
He had told DHS that his clients were eating alone, rather than together. Under state welfare laws, clients who eat separately are eligible for more benefits. Elleson turned over a check for the $49,000 yesterday. He was also ordered to perform 150 hours of community service.
Elleson did not address the court yesterday, but acknowledged in December when he pleaded no contest that he was in charge of the program and agreed to repay the state.
Elleson was not charged with personally benefiting from the theft, but as an aider and abettor, said defense attorney Samuel King Jr.
"Bottom line is, he was in charge of the program when this happened, so he's taken responsibility," he said.
Deputy Attorney General Rick Damerville had argued that while Elleson qualified for a deferral, 10 years was more appropriate because of his role in the community.
"I think if you're a role model in the community and you're trying to help young people ... you've got certain responsibilities, and role models shouldn't be lying to government agencies even if their intent is noble," Damerville said.
John Elleson and Suzanne Elleson, 39, were indicted in May 2001 on charges stemming from a complaint by one of their clients. The client alleged that when he and other participants turned 18, they were instructed to apply for public assistance, and once they qualified, they were ordered to turn over their electronic benefits transfer cards to Suzanne Elleson or face getting kicked out.
Had the program been approved by the Department of Health, the Ellesons would have been permitted to control their clients' benefits, Damerville said.
Teen Challenge was not licensed by the state as a drug and alcohol treatment facility.
Five additional counts of second-degree theft against the couple were subsequently dropped as part of their plea agreements.
Suzanne Elleson was granted a three-year deferral after pleading guilty to second-degree theft. Her attorney, Earle Partington, had characterized her actions as resulting more from a lack of understanding of the state's welfare laws and faulty bookkeeping.
The couple is no longer affiliated with Teen Challenge, which at one time housed 30 male clients at a Central Oahu site.
John Elleson still runs a Christian program that does not rely on state assistance, King said.

Find Original Article Here: http://archives.starbulletin.com/2003/02/25/news/story6.html