One month after the Boston Marathon bombings, Audrea Gause traveled more than 170 miles from Troy, N.Y., and checked into the emergency room at Boston Medical Center.
There, she picked up the medical records she would need to falsely claim that she suffered traumatic head injuries at the Marathon and should be compensated by the One Fund, the charity set up to help the more than 260 people injured during the April 15 bomb attacks.
But soon after Gause, a 27-year-old mother of two young girls, received a $480,000 check from the charity, someone tipped off authorities that Gause had a history of arrests on fraud charges and could not have been at the Marathon.
The tip made its way to Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office. Investigators eventually learned that Gause’s visit to Boston in May 2013 was part of a carefully thought-out scheme to steal from the One Fund, prosecutors said. She was never at the Marathon.
“This was not an unplanned or impulsive act,” Gina Masotta, assistant attorney general, wrote to Suffolk Superior Court Judge Carol Ball. “The defendant took money away from real victims and from the thousands of people who so generously donated.”
Gause pleaded guilty to larceny charges Tuesday. Masotta asked that Gause be sentenced to four to five years in state prison, but Ball sentenced her to the two and a half to three years the defense had recommended.
“This is a significant state prison sentence for a very troubling crime,” said Attorney General Martha Coakley. Gause “had gone to some trouble. She had thought this through,” Coakley added.
In court, Gause, a small woman whose daughters are 5 and 1, spoke only to answer Ball, who asked a series of questions designed to make sure Gause had not been forced to plead guilty.
“You are guilty of this offense?” Ball asked.
“Yes,” Gause said.
At her request, Gause’s lawyer, John Hayes, declined to address the court at sentencing.
A Suffolk Grand Jury indicted Gause on charges of larceny over $250 and gross fraud. Hayes later filed a motion to dismiss the fraud charge, arguing that the state law on the charge was vaguely worded and the grand jury failed to find probable cause that Gause had violated it. The fraud charge was dropped.
When Gause received the $480,000 on July 1, 2013, she used $6,000 to pay off her boyfriend’s car loan. She also signed up for a seven-day cruise on the Rhone River in France, a free trip offered to the bombing victims.
Two weeks after receiving the funds, she gave Marini Homes, one of the largest builders in the Albany, N.Y., area, $377,000 to buy a four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom house in Halfmoon, an upscale suburb. Gause offered to pay the full amount in cash to start construction on the house.
“I had never had anyone do that before,” said Robert Marini Jr., CEO of Marini Homes. Marini asked that she instead provide a certified bank check. He did not learn that the money was stolen until authorities announced her arrest last July.
Marini said Coakley’s office quickly contacted him and froze the $377,000 held in his account. Marini said he had not spent any of it on construction.
Prosecutors said that Gause deposited the money she did not spend in a credit account. Those funds were also frozen while the case against her was pending. All of the money will be returned to the One Fund, officials said.
Next month, a trial is scheduled for two Boston brothers who allegedly tried to defraud the One Fund by telling the charity that their aunt lost her legs in the bombing. She had died years before. The brothers have pleaded not guilty.
Coakley said she is sure that the brothers and Gause are the only people who made fraudulent claims to the One Fund.
She said investigators have carefully reviewed other claims, studying medical records and following up with doctors and hospitals.
“We’re satisfied that these three people were the exception and stood in stark contrast to the generosity of people in Massachusetts and around the world,” Coakley said.