The nonprofit leader submitted false documents, including altered check images and fictitious invoices, to secure funds. | Proxima Studio/Shutterstock

The former head of a Nebraska nonprofit will serve four months in prison after she admitted to submitting fraudulent documents to secure public grant funds meant for electronics recycling collection events.

Brenda Banks, of Omaha, last summer pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, stemming from a series of grants she applied for and received for a nonprofit organization, Angels on Wheels. The nonprofit operates a work experience and vocational training center called the Cross Training Center, also located in Omaha. The training center is connected to an electronics recycling operation, called Cross Electronic Recycling.

In one such grant application approved in 2018, Banks described a series of standard e-scrap collection events.

“The funds from this grant will be used towards the cost of managing 33 electronic collection events and to process the collected items in a manner that conforms with our zero landfill policy,” she wrote. “The collection events will be open to the public and will be strategically placed in the Omaha metro area and the surrounding areas. We collect out-of-service electronics including computers, consumer electronics, large appliances, automobiles and other out-of-service household or industrial equipment. Personal computers and other items that have useful life are fully refurbished for continued use. Items that do not have any useful life are dismantled by hand and the materials are sorted into like commodities and sold.”

The Nebraska Environmental Trust, a state agency that administered the grants, required certain documentation before reimbursement was approved, like proof of invoices or checks. In applying for the grants, Banks “repeatedly submitted false documents, to include altered check images and fictitious invoices,” according to an April 2 release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nebraska.

“For example, Banks fraudulently altered images of checks by whiting out the names of the individuals or companies that the checks had been paid to and writing names of other entities or organizations,” the attorney’s office wrote.

Banks ultimately secured $220,000 in grant funds from the agency.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office indicted Banks on that and other fraud charges in 2022, based on an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Banks reached a plea deal last summer, pleading guilty to the Nebraska Environmental Trust application fraud, and the other charges were dropped.

During the sentencing process early this year, Banks’ attorney successfully argued for lower sentencing, noting that despite the fraud, the intent of the grant funds was still met.

“Although Banks provided some false information, ultimately, the money granted to her was used as intended,” her attorney wrote. “Banks applied for grant money to complete recycling projects, the money was provided to complete recycling projects and the recycling projects were completed.”

As an example, Banks’ attorney included several invoices submitted as part of the grant process showing recycling services were performed by Guardian Enterprises and Cross Electronic Recycling, both of which are electronics recycling operations connected to the nonprofit.

Banks’ attorney also described, as further evidence of recycling services performed, financial records submitted during the legal process showing “over $250,000 dollars was paid directly to ‘Glassico’ by Cross Training Center between 2019 and 2020.” Glassico is a CRT glass outlet in Mexico.

Banks’ attorney argued that out of all the grant funds Banks secured, she only misused $26,500, to buy a car and for personal expenses.

Judge Robert F. Rossiter, Jr. granted the request in part, sentencing Banks on April 2 to four months in prison, supervised release for three years, restitution of $83,000 and a fine of $5,000.

A version of this story appeared in Resource Recycling on Apr. 9.

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