PENSACOLA, FL—Sandra L. Johnson, 43, of Pensacola, made her initial appearance in federal court today on charges relating to a conspiracy to commit fraud. The federal indictment alleges that Johnson, the former director of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) was involved in a conspiracy to commit wire fraud based upon actions she took in relation to her official duties. LIHEAP is a program funded by the Community Action Program Committee, Inc. (CAPC). CAPC receives federal funds to aid those in the community with job training, education, health care, energy assistance, and more. In particular, LIHEAP guarantees payment of power bills to the Gulf Power Company for those who are eligible for the federal benefits due to low income. During the course of the charged conspiracy, as outlined in the indictment, Johnson altered documents and signatures in order to get coverage for some questionable LIHEAP recipients, as well as for herself.
United States Magistrate Judge Charles J. Kahn, Jr., held the arraignment for Johnson today, at which time she entered a plea of not guilty. A trial date of April 2, 2012, has been set before Senior United States District Judge Lacey A. Collier. If convicted, Johnson faces up to thirty years in prison. However, an indictment is merely a formal charge by the grand jury and every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
The indictment resulted from an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and security personnel of the Gulf Power Company. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney David L. Goldberg.