WEST CHESTER A West Chester woman convicted of Medicaid fraud and stealing money meant for her 22-year-old autistic daughter was sentenced to 12 years on probation Tuesday and must pay back about $180,000.
Michelle Cohen, 52, will have to pay more than $160,000 to the state Department of Public Welfare and $19,400 to the West Chester Area School District, as well as more than $20,000 to the state for the cost of prosecuting her, Judge Jacqueline C. Cody said.
Cohen will serve the first six months of her sentence under house arrest and do 250 hours of community service after that.
Cohen asked to be kept out of jail for the sake of her daughter, Morgan, whose diagnoses include autism, bipolar disorder, intellectual disability, and a behavior disorder. The statement Cohen gave before sentencing and the letters that supporters and health professionals submitted told the judge that Morgan can be violent, and that being separated from her mother makes the behavior worse.
"But for Morgan's need for you to be home, you would likely go to jail for a very long time," the judge said.
Cohen, who stays home with Morgan, was responsible for her daughter's care and managing her services. So she received money from the state and the school district to pay for the social service workers and teachers Morgan needs.
A jury ruled Jan. 10 that Cohen billed for some services that Morgan never received and kept incorrect time sheets. She was found guilty of 12 felony charges and one misdemeanor.
Cohen said she was not trained how to bill properly, and it was unclear how she spent the extra money.
"I came here today to accept full responsibility for all my actions," Cohen told the judge before her sentencing.
About 30 family members, friends, and people who have worked with Morgan at the family's home came to the hearing to support Cohen, including her husband and 23-year-old son.
Elizabeth Madigan, with the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office, said Cohen was using her child as an excuse.
"She wants to use [her daughter] to get out of paying for her crimes," Madigan said.
The judge said she balanced the seriousness of the offenses, Morgan's special needs, the fact that Cohen does not have a prior criminal record, and the "extreme stress" and "hardship the family has undertaken with love and care through all these years."