A San Antonio woman who allegedly bilked the military out of over $100 million in a six-year long fraud scheme forged her boss’ signature to move the sums, prosecutors allege.
Janet Yamanaka Mello, 57, who is accused of embezzling from the US Army and spending millions of dollars on 80 flashy cars and 31 real estate properties, was not detained before her trial – after a judge granted her a personal recognizance bond.
Judge Richard B Farrer did not deem Mello a flight risk – despite her previously residing in Guam – so he ordered her to be released after processing.
This means she didn’t have to pay a bond fee – and instead just gave her word that she will be present for all court appearances, documents from December 14 show.
Aside from allegedly funneling Army funds into a defunct business she created, Mello is also accused of forging her boss’ signature on paperwork that allowed her to move the money without anyone questioning it.
Mello (right, with her attorney left) worked for the U.S. Army at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas as a CYS Financial Program Manager – where she was able to allegedly move money into her shell company
Mello’s $3.1million property in Preston, Maryland. She regularly filed fraudulent paperwork and deposited grants a total of 40 times into her fake business during a six-year period, securing over $100,000,000 for herself, court documents allege
Prosecutors believe that this is how she was able to keep the act going for six years.
Mello’s scathing federal indictment claims that she used the digital signature ‘S.K’ – which was not her own – on multiple signoffs while working as a CYS Financial Program Manager at Fort Sam Houston in Texas.
‘S.K’ refers to the chief of the CYS program, Suzanne King, who was Mello’s boss, reports the San Antonio Express-News.
King has worked as the head of the US Army’s Installation Management Command G-9 Division of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation for at least four years.
Mello used King’s signature to siphon federal funds into her own fake business, CHYLD, as recently as August 29 last year, prosecutors claim.
As a result, questions have been raised about how the Army worker was able to steal over $100 million, in a relatively short time period, without being checked.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Simmons said the Army hadn’t conducted an audit of the program, while others close to the investigation say that the Army just worked on the assumption of goodwill of its employees.
A source familiar with the investigation told the Express-News about the Army leaders: ‘They stove-piped the process to only one person.
‘They gave her complete carte blanche, and she found all the loopholes.’
Mello’s scathing federal indictment alleged that she used the digital signature ‘S.K’ which refers to the chief of the CYS program, Suzanne King (pictured) who was Mello’s boss
Mello used some of the $100million she siphoned from the US Army to buy a $250,000 Land Rover Range Rover, federal prosecutors say
Janet Yamanaka Mello, 57, is accused of taking military funds and spending millions of dollars on blingy jewelry, clothing, luxury vehicles, and real estate in one of the biggest fraud cases the army has ever dealt with
Mello was given more autonomy in her position, according to sources, and the Army had relaxed some administrative restrictions as part of an ‘organizational shake-up.’
An insider told the local paper: ‘It speaks to the nonchalant-ness of the command and its lack of internal controls.’
Ex-federal prosecutor Robert Almonte Jr. said that government programs are not ‘equipped to monitor these things’ and that Mello’s alleged scheming is ‘nothing super complex’ nor was she ‘discreet on her part.’
Almonte told the paper: ‘In some fraud instances, they at least take steps to make sure to hide their fraud. There was no apparent attempt to hide what she was doing with the money after the fact.’
Former IRS’ criminal investigation division Mike Lemoine said that Mello was essentially ‘hiding in the open.’
Since Mello’s alleged fraud came to light in December, job adverts have been put out to find her replacement.
Fort Sam Houston is searching for a new CYS Financial Program Manager, offering a salary of $118,000 to $138,000 per year.
This is one of the biggest fraud cases the military has ever dealt with.
In 2016, Mello allegedly created a shell company, Child Health and Youth Lifelong Development, which she fraudulently used to collect money from the 4-H military partnership grant.
Mello also owns this $870,000 home in Lakewood, Colorado. Mello had amassed a portfolio of homes in Texas, Maryland, Colorado, Washington, and New Mexico – all of which, the prosecutors claim, she bought with the frauded cash.
This is Mello’s $2.3million estate in Castle Rock, Colorado
The firm, which was meant to help the children of army personnel, allegedly never did. Instead, it received dozens of monetary grants – without examination – for six years.
Mello has nearly 80 vehicles and 31 properties across five states up for forfeiture – as federal prosecutors allege she lived a life of luxury and opulence that was clearly not supported by her $130,000 a year government salary.
She reported that her company CHYLD earned a profit of $483 on revenue of $2,152 for training consultations in 2017. But since then, she has not filed any tax returns.
She regularly filed fraudulent paperwork – and deposited grants into her fake business 40 times, securing over $100,000,000 for herself, documents allege.
Transaction details show she allegedly wire transferred $264,874 from the account to buy herself a 2023 Land Rover Range Rover last year.
She also sent herself $3,308,157 to purchase real estate property in Canyon Lake, Texas, documents state.
The court has listed a total of 78 luxury cars and motorbikes that Mello owns – and has demanded the assets in a bill of forfeiture. They include numerous Maseratis, Ferraris, Aston Martins, Mercedes, Teslas, Harley-Davidsons, and Land Rovers.
Among her collection that has been ordered to be seized is a 1955 Ferrari Fratelli (file photo)
This home was listed as one of the properties to seize. It cost Mello $1.1million and is in San Antonio, Texas
Mello also owns a 2003 Aston Martin Vanquish (file photo)
A 1935 Plymouth Sedan, which Mello owned (file photo)
As well as vehicular assets, they have named 31 of her real properties. These span across multiple states – with mansions worth over $3 million, ranches, sprawling acres of farmland, and luxury high-rise apartments and condos.
Mello had amassed a portfolio of homes in Texas, Maryland, Colorado, Washington, and New Mexico – which, the prosecutors claim, she bought with the frauded cash.
Documents also claim that Mello has six bank accounts, and she held a minimum of $32,000 in each.
It was the IRS flagged that her lifestyle – buying million-dollar homes multiple times a year – was not supported by her salary.
Their criminal investigations division worked with army investigators as they put the pieces of the puzzle together – before Mello was criminally indicted in December 2023.
On December 6, the US Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Texas said that a federal grand jury in San Antonio charged Mello with 10 counts.
The statement said: ‘Mello claimed that CHYLD provided services to military members and their families, when, in reality, CHYLD did not provide any services.
‘The indictment alleges that Mello instead used the funds to buy millions of dollars in jewelry, clothing, vehicles, and real estate. Additionally, Mello is alleged to have falsified the digital signature of one of her supervisors on multiple occasions.’
Mello is 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.
The San Antonio woman is facing up to 20 years in prison for each fraud charge, 10 years for each spending change, and a mandatory minimum of two years in prison for the aggravated identity theft charge.