EAST ST. LOUIS — A Washington Park trustee pleaded guilty Friday to defrauding the federal government with false Medicaid claims.
Darron Anthony Suggs, 39, of Washington Park, changed his plea from not guilty to guilty before U.S. Magistrate Donald Wilkerson in federal court in East St. Louis.
"I am pleading guilty because I am guilty," Suggs told the judge.
Suggs was indicted July 11 along with six others from the metro-east for health care fraud. He is a former employee of the St. Clair County Probation Department but resigned that job after he was indicted.
Suggs, who has not yet resigned his seat as a trustee in the village of Washington Park, walked to the podium in front of Wilkerson and raised his right hand and was sworn in at 10:34 a.m. He told Wilkerson he was married and the father of three, two biological and one stepchild. He wore a look of sadness on his face. But, as Wilkerson asked him one question after another, he answered him loudly and distinctly.
Assistant U. S. Attorney Liam Coonan told Wilkerson that the U.S government's charge of health care fraud against Suggs came about after federal agents learned there "was a scheme (by Suggs) to defraud health care benefits. Coonan said, "The defendant knowingly and willingly exercised the scheme."
Wilkerson showed Suggs a document that he said was Suggs' guilty plea and asked Suggs whether the signature on the document was his. Suggs replied, "Yes, your honor." Suggs said he signed the document of his own free will, that he had not been coerced or threatened into entering a guilty plea.
Checking his competency to determine whether he understood the charges and the court proceedings, Wilkerson asked Suggs a battery of questions, including his education and awareness of why he was in court Friday morning.
"Did you do what the federal government said you did? "Yes sir," Suggs said. Suggs also said he was satisfied with the legal representation that he received.
Suggs faces up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both, and supervised release of three years, and a $100 special assessment fee.
Wilkerson said the plea agreement contained a loss amount of $64,867 on the fraud Suggs was charged with. He told Suggs that he could be made to pay restitution.
Suggs admitted he claimed hours of personal assistant services not actually performed for two qualified Medicaid beneficiaries, according to court records. The scheme began in 2006 and ended earlier this year.
Wilkerson told Suggs that he received a reference letter from state Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, but he gave the letter to Suggs' attorney, Rodney Holmes, and told him that he felt it may be more appropriate for the sentencing judge.
Wilkerson accepted Suggs' guilty plea and allowed him to remain on bond. But, Wilkerson told Suggs that his status on bond had changed from being accused of a federal crime to now admitting guilt to a federal crime. Wilkerson said Suggs had not had any problems while out on bond and urged him to keep it that way until he is sentenced. Failure to do so will cause revocation of his bond and an additional five years to be tacked on to whatever sentence he gets for the Medicaid fraud.
Wilkerson told Suggs that the sentencing guidelines are advisory and that the sentencing judge would look at the Probation Department's pre-sentence report and his criminal history and his character.
Suggs declined to comment after the hearing.
Wilkerson will now recommend to U.S. District Judge David Herrndon to accept Suggs guilty plea. Sentencing is set for March 14. Wilkerson said parole is not an option.
As part of the Probation Department, Suggs had mentored children in East St. Louis, Cahokia and Belleville through his programs, Iron to Iron and Women of Virtue. Suggs had been trying to get as many young people as he could to stay in school and stay out of trouble.
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.