Convicted of welfare fraud, former St. Louis County employee helped out ailing parentsA jury determined Monday that Sonia Bonilla — a former victim’s advocate in the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office — wrongfully obtained public assistance by failing to report income, and it apparently didn’t matter that she used the unreported income to help her ailing parents in Puerto Rico.
By: Mark Stodghill, Duluth News Tribune
A jury determined Monday that Sonia Bonilla — a former victim’s advocate in the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office — wrongfully obtained public assistance by failing to report income, and it apparently didn’t matter that she used the unreported income to help her ailing parents in Puerto Rico.
Bonilla’s mother, Cecilia Camancho, told jurors through an interpreter that her daughter sent her and her late husband $700 every two weeks. Camancho had heart issues and her husband suffered liver and kidney problems before dying.
The crime Bonilla committed is a felony, but since she has no prior criminal record it is presumed that she will receive a probationary sentence. Judge Eric Hylden ordered that Bonilla cooperate with an Arrowhead Regional Corrections probation officer in providing a history of her background before sentencing on April 17.
Bonilla was accused of failing to report income that would have disqualified her from receiving $10,743.29 in medical assistance from St. Louis County and the state.
According to the criminal complaint, Bonilla falsely claimed in her Minnesota Department of Human Services application and subsequent program renewal forms that she had only one employer: the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office. That allowed single-parent Bonilla and her two daughters to be eligible for medical assistance.
An investigation in May 2010 revealed that Bonilla also was earning regular income through the University of Minnesota Duluth and ARC Northland, the complaint alleged.
Cloquet defense attorney Thomas Skare argued that Bonilla had no intent to commit a crime and that she didn’t benefit from her ARC income.
James Ross, as assistant Carlton County attorney, prosecuted the case because of Bonilla’s previous work in the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office.
“The jury showed a lot of fortitude and perseverance,” Ross said. “It seemed like they were deadlocked for a while and they continued to deliberate. They made a determination that was really consistent with the evidence in a tough case.”
Bonilla shook Ross’ hand after the guilty verdict. Outside the courtroom, Bonilla said: “I forgive them for what they’ve done.”
Ross said it was only the second time in his 25 years as an attorney that someone he prosecuted shook his hand after being convicted.
“She’s a good person,” he said. “Jurors were not evaluating her, they were evaluating one of her acts. That’s the difference.”