By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
A Gillette woman who defrauded another woman of more than $100,000 pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court this week to charges of wire fraud and making false claims to the Internal Revenue Service.
Alexa Kinney faces up to 45 years in prison, three years of supervised release and up to $1 million in fines for her convictions. She will be sentenced on March 24.
As part of her plea agreement, Kinney will also pay restitution, which will be determined by the court.
According to court documents, a woman identified only as M.F. filed a report with the Cheyenne Police Department in February 2020 alleging that Kinney defrauded her out of $165,000. According to M.F., Kinney was supposed to invest the money, but instead kept it for herself.
An investigation revealed that in 2019, Kinney was unemployed and lived at various hotels across Wyoming, often using fraudulent means to avoid paying her hotel bills.
In the summer of 2019, Kinney met M.F. while staying at the Fairfield Inn in Cheyenne, where the victim was an employee. The two became friends and Kinney learned that the victim had recently received a large inheritance.
Kinney persuaded M.F. to let her invest some of the money. On Aug. 9, 2019, M.F. gave Kinney a cashier’s check for $165,000. Kinney told M.F. that the investment would return $280,000 by Oct. 11, 2019.
The investigation revealed Kinney never invested the money, but instead used it for her personal expenses and to pay off creditors.
On Aug. 12, 2019, she returned to the credit union where M.F. had an account and exchanged the $165,000 cashier’s check for $8,000 in cash and five smaller cashier’s checks, which broke down to: $92,036 to Kinney, $16,000 to Kinney’s mother, $4,214 to a law firm in Laramie for legal services rendered, $5,750 for Timberline Hospitality in Laramie for incurred hotel expenses and $39,000 to Nylund’s Collision Center in Colorado to repair Kinney’s vehicle following an accident.
Kinney told investigators that she invested her own money for M.F. and that the $165,000 was a repayment. However, there is no evidence Kinney invested any money and the victim has only received a few thousand dollars from Kinney in response to her numerous requests for repayment.
From the time Kinney received the money in August 2019 to December 2019, the two women exchanged text messages frequently. Many of the messages contained Kinney’s promises regarding the investment and assertions that M.F.’s investment was on track.
To quell any concerns, Kinney would occasionally leave cash for M.F. at the front desk of hotel. In autumn 2019, she returned $2,000 to M.F.
M.F. was not Kinney’s only victim in 2019, however, according to court documents.
In March 2019, Kinney met T.S. on a dating website, and she claimed she was a legal consultant. In May 2019, T.S. contacted Kinney regarding a legal matter and agreed to pay her $1,800 to act as his legal consultant.
T.S. provided Kinney with his credit card to make the payment, the only time he authorized her to use his card. A few weeks later, Kinney began charging food and hotel expenses to the card.
Text messages between the two showed Kinney claimed there was a merchant mix-up and that whenever she used her company credit card, T.S.’s card was mistakenly charged.
Kinney used his card at least four times, charging for: $1,000 for legal expenses at a firm in Cheyenne, $300 for a rental car, $1,115.44 for lodging expenses at Fairfield Inn and another $1,990.05 for lodging expenses just a couple weeks later.
Additionally, in April 2020, Kinney applied to receive a stimulus check for $1,200 through the IRS’ website. She had not filed a 2019 tax return and was required to submit tax return and income information.
However, Kinney claimed that she was not required to file a 2019 tax return form because her gross income for the year was less than $12,200, which was a false statement, since she’d received at least $165,000 in taxable income from M.F. in 2019.
“By pleading guilty, Alexa Kinney became another example of an individual who attempted to obtain federal aid illegally and was brought to justice,” said Andy Tsui, IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge for the state of Wyoming. “IRS Criminal Investigation is committed to investigating those that defraud honest citizens and the federal government.