A wealthy North Oaks woman will serve no prison time for defrauding Medical Assistance of $332,000. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen sentenced her to probation instead, saying her two severely disabled children “are very, very dependent on you.”
Ericksen ordered Cynthia Hood, 55, to pay a $300,000 fine, but said she was entitled to the lighter sentence because she was not the fraud’s ringleader, cooperated with authorities in investigating her husband, and was essential to caring for the children.
Her husband, James Hood, 69, was sentenced to 3 ½ years in prison and must pay a $200,000 fine. Erickson called his actions “despicable.”
The couple have a net worth of $11 million, federal authorities said. Under sentencing guidelines, Cynthia Hood would have received 27 to 33 months in prison, and James faced 41 to 52 months.
Ericksen warned Cynthia Hood that the needs of her children did not give her a perpetual “get out jail free” card and if she committed fraud again, she’d be imprisoned.
In a quivering voice, Hood told Ericksen she was “ashamed” for what she did. “This disgrace will shadow me for the rest of my life,” she said, adding her “heartfelt apology does not undo the wrong I’ve done.”
When the couple pleaded guilty last October, they wrote a check for $483,000 that covered the money they stole plus a penalty. The medical assistance paid for the children’s care and included $30,000 for a wheelchair elevator in their house and $20,000 a year so Cynthia Hood could be a personal attendant.
The couple have triplets, born 15 years ago. One has autism and another has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy. The couple’s attorney, Jean Brandl, said “the safety of the children may well be in jeopardy” without their mother, who sleeps with the daughter with cerebral palsy so that she doesn’t choke.
Brandl asked for less prison time for James Hood, a retired professor from Tulane University in New Orleans. Brandl noted he had no friends other than his parents until the age of 47. After their deaths he sought out a wife.
Brandl said he had been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and paranoia about being without money, despite his wealth. She said he wore old clothes, drove old cars, reused dental floss and washed his hands in cold water because hot water was more expensive. She said he was being treated by a psychiatrist who specializes in individuals who hoard.
“I can’t believe what I’ve done,” James Hood told Ericksen. “I deserve serious punishment. … I commit the rest of my life to amends.”
Ericksen said that “whatever obsession” he had, Hood understood the difference between right and wrong.
She said he moved from Louisiana to Minnesota because of its generous benefits for children and illegally collected benefits from both states. She said the money he stole was intended for children without means.
Despite Brandl’s statement that Hood bought an $865,000 house in North Oaks solely for his children, Ericksen said “nobody needs a fancy house.”