LIHUE — A Kekaha woman was sentenced on Monday to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars she stole from the federal government while working as a clerk at the Pacific Missile Range Facility.
Rowenalynn Yorkman, 48, pleaded guilty to defrauding the U.S. Department of the Navy and its employees of nearly $365,000 during her six-year tenure as a PMRF employee, according to court documents and a Department of Justice press release.
Yorkman used a coworker’s account without authorization to enter false information, creating hundreds of fraudulent vouchers for travel expenses that never occurred, and eventually approving reimbursements for the fake travel expenses before transferring the funds into her own bank account.
“First of all, this was not a one-time giving into temptation,” U.S. District Judge Susan Mollway said at Yorkman’s sentencing Monday, describing the crime as the “wholesale use of other people’s names and information.”
Mollway said Yorkman defrauded the government and her coworkers so regularly that her behavior “was almost like a habit.”
According to facts compiled by federal prosecutors — Yorkman admitted to the account as part of her plea agreement — the scheme worked like this.
Yorkman’s job at PMRF was to track and review travel orders and claims for government personnel based at the facility. As part of her duties, she was granted privileged authorizations within the government’s online travel management system, a network used to create itineraries, prepare reservations and reimburse employees for their travel expenses.
In a typical transaction, a returning government traveler created a voucher in the online management system, attached receipts and input the bank account information where they wanted the reimbursement money sent, before digitally signing off on the electronic document.
Yorkman was in charge of reviewing and approving those vouchers before they were finalized. She realized that even after an employee had submitted their travel forms and been reimbursed, an amendment could be added to the voucher, and additional payments could be sent to a different account or government-issued credit card.
Yorkman didn’t have the authorization to input any new information into other employees’ vouchers, but someone else in her office did.
She was somehow able to get a coworker’s government access card without their knowledge and use it to log onto the travel management system.
Once she had access, Yorkman simply created a voucher amendment, made up fake expenses, routed the reimbursement payments to her own bank account and approved the fraudulent voucher.
From January 2011 to January 2017, Yorkman pulled off this scheme 333 times before eventually catching the attention of the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
Federal charges were brought against Yorkman in November in Hawaii’s U.S. District Court, and she reached an agreement with prosecutors shortly thereafter, pleading guilty to one count of wire fraud in exchange for slightly-reduced sentencing guidelines. Still, Yorkman could have faced up to 20 years in prison.