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Former Head Start fiscal chief gets three years' probation in fraud case

TAMPA — The former deputy fiscal chief at Hillsborough County Head Start was sentenced to three years of probation on Thursday for orchestrating the agency's purchase of a children's book written by his wife.

A jury convicted Michael Jimenez in July of obtaining more than $5,000 by fraud from a government agency. He was facing up to 10 years in prison.

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bucklew said she did not think prison was an appropriate sentence because Jimenez has no prior criminal record and poses no threat to the public.

Jimenez, who declined to comment after the sentencing, told the judge, "I respect the jury's verdict. I respectfully request any leniency."

U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill told the judge that Jimenez initiated Head Start's $9,000 purchase of 750 copies of the book Travel Boy Helps Sebastian.

"At any point, he could have stopped this," said O'Neill. "He utilized his position to defraud the United States government and Head Start."

Jimenez's wife, Johana Melendez Santiago, who was not employed by Head Start, and agency supervisor Marie Mason were acquitted of fraud and conspiracy charges in July.

The jury had also found Jimenez guilty of mail fraud. But in August, Bucklew dismissed the charge because there was no evidence that Jimenez had received a kickback or bribe from his wife. Prosecutors are appealing that ruling.

Jimenez, who was also ordered to pay $9,000 restitution, was fired by Head Start in July 2010 and is now studying to become a nurse. As a condition of his probation, Bucklew said he must find a steady job so he can pay restitution.

Reach William R. Levesque at levesque@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3432.

Former Head Start fiscal chief gets three years' probation in fraud case 10/20/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 21, 2011 12:32am]

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