An alleged scam artist accused of swindling $100 million from the US Army has been given approval to retire with complete benefits, despite being under criminal investigation. Janet Yamanaka Mello, 57, allegedly used illicitly obtained funds to purchase 80 supercars and 31 homes.
She was arrested in December but pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to appear in court again in February. Meanwhile, her array of civil servant retirement benefits remains unaffected and has not been frozen. Mello also boldly claims that she has "earned" her civil servant retirement package, despite multiple allegations of using the funds for acquiring over 30 homes, luxury cars, and jewelry during the seven-year-long scheme.
Like a Free Bird
The military admitted that there is no action they can take to withhold Mello's benefits, as they are protected by a federal law that has faced delays in government bureaucracy. "The command has no authority to impact Ms. Mello's retirement," an Army spokesperson told the San Antonio Express-News.
"In accordance with 5 U.S. Code Section 8312, an individual may be denied an annuity or retired pay on the basis of the service of the individual, if the individual is convicted of treason, rebellion or insurrection, or other similar offenses. There is no similar statutory authority for denying retired pay based on a conviction of other offenses."
Albert Flores, Mello's attorney, informed the San Antonio Express-News that his client "earned it," referring to her retirement benefits.
"She earned it. I don't see how one thing is related to the other," he said of the ongoing criminal investigation.
Flores mentioned that Mello's case is expected to be resolved soon, stressing that she has been "very cooperative" in surrendering assets. He indicated that she would probably sell some of her luxurious possessions to reimburse officials.
In a press release issued in December 2023, the Department of Justice stated that Mello "allegedly stole more than $100 million in Army funds by regularly submitting fraudulent paperwork that indicated an entity she controlled was entitled to receive funds from the Army."
Perfect Con Artist
The 57-year-old from San Antonio, who was not held in jail pending trial, is accused of an extensive six-year fraud that she concealed from military authorities. She allegedly formed a shell company in 2016 to divert significant amounts intended for military youth programs nationwide.
Mello's activities came to light when IRS agents began investigating her financial affairs and the sources of funding for her luxury properties, vacations, and supercars.
Mello purchased 31 different real estate properties spanning Colorado, Maryland, New Mexico, Texas, and Washington.
Besides, she indulged in purchasing a minimum of 80 vehicles. Authorities also confiscated over $18 million in cash from six different accounts associated with Mello.
Mello was arrested in December and charged with five counts of mail fraud, four counts of engaging in a monetary transaction over $10,000 using criminally derived proceeds, and one count of aggravated identity theft.
Released without bail, the US District Court for the Western District of Texas awaits a decision by January 19 on whether Mello will enter into a plea deal or proceed to face jury selection and trial on February 12.
In the event of a guilty verdict, Mello could face a maximum prison sentence of 142 years.