A former longtime Hennepin County employee and her husband were sentenced to prison for covering up their relationship and combining income to defraud public assistance programs out of more than $248,000.

Robert A. Coleman, 46, was sentenced last week in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis to one year and one day in prison and three years of supervised release.

Yolanda Y. Pittman, 51, was given a six-month prison term and two years' supervised release for her role in a plot that lasted nearly eight years. The Minneapolis couple pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to steal government funds.

The sentences also require Pittman and Coleman to repay what they stole, specifically nearly $126,000 to the county, about $70,000 to the federal Social Security Administration and more than $53,000 to the Metropolitan Council.

Prosecutors had argued for a one-year prison term for Pittman, pointing out in a presentence court filing that she "willfully exploited a system designed to help those in need in order to bilk the government of food, housing, and medical benefits for which she knew her household was not eligible. Worse yet, Pittman perpetrated this scheme while employed by Hennepin County to help administer some of the very programs she defrauded."

Pittman's defense sought a sentence of probation, pointing out to the court that her "age and lack of criminal history, her work history, actions while on pretrial release, along with the need to pay restitution and care for their son, warrant a finding that probation is the appropriate sentence."

For Coleman, the prosecution pushed for an 18-month prison sentence, saying he "submitted paperwork year after year intentionally omitting … Pittman's income in order to make himself appear financially eligible" for various government aid.

His defense pushed for probation and a smaller restitution amount, noting that "he was raised dirt poor in subsidized housing in St. Louis with his several siblings."

According to the grand jury indictments against the couple:

Coleman should have been disqualified from receiving public benefits after he started living with and later marrying Pittman, who worked for the county's Human Services and Public Health Department from 2002 to 2016.

Instead, they submitted false applications that hid their relationship or cohabitation to agencies responsible for benefits programs that included Section 8 rental housing assistance and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, among others, from at least October 2010 to August 2018.

After Pittman bought a home in Brooklyn Park in 2016, the two submitted a shelter verification form to the county that listed the home's address as Coleman's residence and stated that he was the only adult living there.

Coleman and Pittman had a child together in 2008 and married in 2014. They lived together throughout the conspiracy, and had they disclosed her income and living arrangements, Coleman would have been financially disqualified from receiving the benefits.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482