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MISSOULA — A former employee with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) in Butte admitted today to stealing federal funding for assistance programs by submitting false information on applications, U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich said.

Heather Marie Bugni, 34, of Butte, pleaded guilty to theft of government money, property or records. Bugni faces a maximum of 10 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kathleen L. DeSoto presided. Sentencing was set for Feb. 1, 2024 before U.S. District Judge Dana L. Christensen. The court will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. Bugni was released pending further proceedings.

In court documents, the government alleged that Bugni was employed by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services as a client services coordinator from October 2015 to July 2021. Bugni processed applications, conducted interviews and approved benefits for multiple public assistance programs, including the federal programs Medicaid, which is medical assistance for low-income persons, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is a nutrition assistance program for low-income individuals and families.

The government further alleged that Bugni approved applications, entered false information and incorrect wage information that resulted in her boyfriend’s mother receiving $13,869 in Medicaid benefits and $848 in SNAP benefits and her boyfriend’s father receiving $63,303 in Medicaid benefits. Bugni also applied for SNAP benefits on behalf of her daughter and filled out the application posing as her boyfriend. Bugni intentionally provided an incorrect address for them and later called DPHHS, posing as the boyfriend’s mother, and verified the incorrect address. Bugni knew that if she had provided the correct address, her own income would have made her daughter and boyfriend ineligible for SNAP benefits. Bugni received $11,309 in SNAP benefits from this conduct.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael A. Kakuk is prosecuting the case. The U.S Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General conducted the investigation.