Saint Al’s employee agrees to plead guilty to stealing funds, including donations

A woman accused of stealing $1 million from Saint Alphonsus Health System has agreed to plead guilty to two counts of wire fraud.

Lois Soito, 60, of Horseshoe Bend, was indicted in August by a federal grand jury on 10 counts of wire fraud.

Under the plea deal, which was filed this week in federal court, federal prosecutors will drop eight counts against her. Soito also will pay Saint Alphonsus about $1.5 million in restitution, forfeiting cash and real estate that she bought with ill-gotten gains, the plea deal says.

The indictment accused Soito of taking about $1 million over a 14-year period. The money she allegedly stole included donations to the popular Festival of Trees charity fundraiser held by Saint Alphonsus.

The Festival of Trees accounts were replenished with money Soito diverted from elsewhere in the health system, Saint Alphonsus said.

“While Ms. Soito diverted cash from the Festival of Trees bank deposits, she replaced this cash with miscellaneous checks made payable to Saint Alphonsus,” the health system said Thursday in an emailed statement. “As a result, Saint Alphonsus does not believe there has been any material impact to the Festival of Trees funds. Rather, the organization was financially impacted in other areas.”

Soito’s attorney told the Statesman he thinks it is important to note that Soito is pleading guilty to two out of 10 counts against her.

“There’s a lot of factors that go into decisions to enter into plea agreements, not all of which I can go into right now. ... From risk of trial, cost and expense, all of those things factor in,” said Soito’s lawyer, Edward W. Dindinger of Dindinger & Kohler PLLC in Boise. “Plea agreements are very common in these kinds of cases.”

The office of U.S. Attorney Bart M. Davis announced the charges against Soito in August in a news release. It said the FBI and Boise Police Department began investigating Soito’s conduct after Saint Alphonsus provided information to authorities.

The Boise-based nonprofit health system said in August that a former employee — whom it did not name — had “engaged in embezzlement” and was facing felony criminal charges.

“When the concerns of financial impropriety that form the basis for the criminal charges initially came to Saint Alphonsus’ attention, we took immediate action, including reporting the concerns to law enforcement and working cooperatively with law enforcement during its investigation,” Saint Al’s said in a news release.

Soito worked for Saint Al’s for two decades, mostly in accounts receivable, the indictment said. From 2005 through January of this year, Soito used a fraudulent check scheme to divert health system money into her own bank accounts, the indictment said. Her employment at Saint Al’s ended in January.

Instead of depositing Festival of Trees cash into the proper bank account, “Soito kept the cash and substituted miscellaneous checks for the deposit,” the prosecutors’ August news release said.

The deal is subject to court approval and Soito’s compliance with terms of the deal, including appearing in court to plead guilty. That hearing hasn’t been scheduled yet, according to federal court records.

Wire fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine. Federal prosecutors plan to recommend a lighter sentence, under the plea agreement, but the court ultimately decides on the sentence.

Editor’s note: The headline on this story has been corrected. An earlier version listed an incorrect dollar amount.

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Watchdog reporter Audrey Dutton joined the Statesman in 2011. Before that, she covered finance policy in Washington, D.C., during the financial crisis. She also worked as a reporter in Maryland, Minneapolis and New York. Audrey hails from Twin Falls.