Manassas Journal Messenger | Manassas woman sued for embezzling

A Manassas woman defrauded in excess of $100,000 from Sallie Mae, using a youth football league bank account as a cover, according to a lawsuit filed in Prince William Circuit Court last week.

Sallie Mae claims Johnessa Deane Bass, 33, used the money to pay for personal airline tickets for herself, her husband Willie Bass and their family, Washington Wizards basketball tickets, a personal telephone bill and flowers, according to the lawsuit. Sallie Mae seeks $200,000 from the Basses, plus a lien on their 9693 Anjou Court home.

Sallie Mae is the nation’s leading provider of education funding, according to its Web site. The company started as a government sponsored enterprise in 1973, and began a privatization process in 1997.

According to the lawsuit, Johnessa Bass took the money over two years between February 2002 and February 2004, while she was employed at Sallie Mae. Between Feb. 13, 2003 and Oct. 15, 2003, Bass charged approximately $14,619 in personal expenses on her supervisor’s business credit card, the lawsuit claims.

Bass declined to comment when reached at her home Friday evening.

Sallie Mae charges that Bass prepared a request for check disbursement of $15,000 made payable to the Greater Manassas Football League Cheerleaders on Oct. 9, 2003. Bass received the check, placed it in the cheerleading bank account at Alliance Bank in Manassas, and then withdrew $13,500 from the account, according to the lawsuit.

The Fairfax County grand jury indicted Bass for forging the signature of her supervisor, Kathleen deLaski, to a $15,000 check on Oct. 9, 2003, and for forging deLaski’s name to a $37,500 check on Oct. 22, 2003.

The recently filed civil suit in Prince William County alleges Bass prepared a second request for check disbursement for $37,500 on Oct. 22, 2003, and forged deLaski’s approval signature. Bass deposited the check in the cheerleading account, and purchased a cashier’s check from the bank for the same amount, made out to Johnessa D. Bass, according to the lawsuit.

“We weren’t aware of any of it,” Robyn M. Johnson, vice president of the Greater Manassas Football League, said in a phone interview last Friday.

Johnson said when Bass’ term as a cheerleading coordinator ended, the league was unable to get any bank statements from her.

“When she quit she closed the account,” Johnson said. “We kept asking for bank statements, which we never [received.]”

Bass requested a third check disbursement for the football league in November 2003 for $30,000, the lawsuit alleges. Bass deposited the check in the cheerleading account and again purchased a cashier’s check in the same amount, made payable to herself, according to the lawsuit. Alliance Bank contacted Sallie Mae in February 2004 after Bass deposited a $75,000 check from Sallie Mae into the cheerleading account and requested $25,000 be wired to her personal account at SunTrust Bank, the lawsuit alleges.

Bass pleaded guilty to two counts of forgery in Fairfax Circuit Court in August, according to Fairfax Circuit Court records. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Bass remains free on a $25,000 bond until her sentencing, scheduled for Oct. 15.

According to Fairfax Circuit Court documents, Judge Leslie Alden has determined Bass owes Sallie May $85,671 in restitution.

But Sallie Mae spokesman Tom Joyce said the restitution “is not going to make us whole.”

A hearing date has yet to be set for the lawsuit. Sallie Mae seeks $100,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages, in addition to the lien on the Bass’ home.

“We’re taking this action to recover what’s owed to us,” Joyce said.


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