Former hospital consultant pleads guilty to fraud charges

GILLETTE — Alexa Kinney, who is from Gillette and was contracted as a public relations consultant for Campbell County Health in 2021, pleaded guilty earlier this month to federal charges of wire fraud, using an unauthorized credit card and making false claims to the Internal Revenue Service.

The charges stemmed from three separate schemes involving fraudulent investment opportunities, unauthorized use of a credit card and making false claims to the IRS, all of which occurred in about a one-year span, according to court documents.

CCH hired Kinney last summer as a crisis manager to help with the organization’s public relations while pushing for its affiliation with Colorado-based health care system UCHealth. She was brought on after the Campbell County Commission initially voted against CCH affiliating with UCHealth in June.

When the commissioners changed course and approved the affiliation later that summer, Kinney stayed on with the organization and consulted on the ongoing Hospice House closure as well as the Medicaid repayment CCH settled on this fall.

Kinney worked with CCH when the hospital board voted to remove then CEO Colleen Heeter from the organization on Oct. 14, and attended the special meeting via video call that night.

Kinney’s initial appearance in court was the next day, Oct. 15, after her arrest in the Denver/Stapleton area, according to court documents.

Hospital board chairman Adrian Gerrits said that after trustees voted to remove Heeter, they were no longer able to reach Kinney. At that point, he said the organization already had planned to move on from her. When she suddenly reached out to them later that month, he said they parted ways.

“To be honest with you, she effectively disappeared right after Colleen was terminated,” Gerrits said. “Now we know why.”

He said he thought then, “this is a very odd thing for a professional to do.”

CCH did not respond in time for publication with information on when Kinney was hired, why she was chosen as a consultant, how much she was paid, when her time with CCH ended or why her contract with CCH ended. The request was made Jan. 12.

Karen Clarke, a spokesperson for CCH, said in an email Jan. 12 that the organization should have that information by Jan. 24.

Kinney’s mother, Terri Kinney, is the director of radiology for CCH. Court documents show Kinney sent her mother $16,000 from the $165,000 she pleaded guilty to defrauding a woman out of.

The wire fraud charge carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a fine as high as $250,000. The penalty for the credit card charge is up to 10 years in prison and $250,000. The charge for her false claims to the IRS has a penalty of up to five years in prison and a potential $250,000 fine.

Alexa Kinney is being held at Scottsbluff County Detention Center in Nebraska.

The federal charges stemmed from scams Kinney pulled in 2019 and early 2020.

In February 2020, a woman identified in court documents as M.F. reported to the Cheyenne Police Department that Kinney defrauded her out of $165,000.

The IRS investigation found that Kinney was unemployed in 2019 and living in various hotels in Wyoming. During that time, she often avoided paying her hotel bills through fraudulent means, according to court documents.

It was at a Fairfield Inn in Cheyenne that Kinney met and befriended the victim, who was employed by the hotel. After learning that M.F. received a large inheritance, Kinney persuaded the woman to let her invest the money for her, offering to turn $165,000 into $280,000 in about two months.

Kinney received the cashier’s check for $165,000 from the victim on Aug. 9, 2019, and she said it would mature to $280,000 by Oct. 11, 2019.

According to court documents, Kinney never invested the money and instead used it to cover her own personal expenses and pay off creditors.

A few days after getting the check, Kinney returned to the federal credit union and exchanged the check for $8,000 in cash along with five smaller checks.

One of the five checks was a $92,036 check payable to herself. The other checks included a $16,000 check to her mother, a $4,214 check to pay for legal services, a $5,750 check for hotel expenses in Laramie and a $39,000 check sent to Nylund’s Collision Center in Colorado, to repair her vehicle.

Kinney told investigators that she invested her own money on behalf of M.F. and that the check she received was repayment, but investigators found no evidence to support that claim, according to court documents.

The only money Kinney gave the victim came in the form of several cash payments, totaling about $2,000, after the woman made numerous requests for her money back.

According to court documents, the two exchanged text messages between August and December 2019 that show Kinney attempted to convince the victim that the investment was still on track.

Before that, Kinney conned a man she met on a dating app out of several thousand dollars after first promising him legal services and then using his credit card for her own personal use, according to court documents.

Kinney met T.S. on an unspecified dating app around March 2019. She represented herself as a legal consultant and the man contacted her in May regarding a legal matter. He agreed to pay her $1,800 to act as his legal consultant and gave his Wells Fargo credit card number for the payment.

Kinney went on to use his credit card number to pay for her own food and lodging. The investigation found that she told the man that there was a “merchant mix-up” with his credit card and her own, so whenever she used her own it charged his, blaming her company’s credit card system, according to court documents.

Kinney used the man’s card to pay for $1,000 in legal expenses, $300 for a rental car and a combined $3,105.49 in payments to the Fairfield Inn in Cheyenne.

Then in April 2020, Kinney applied for a $1,200 Economic Impact Payment, or stimulus check. She had not filed a 2019 tax form, claiming to have made less than the required $12,200 income. Because she received $165,000 from the aforementioned scam, that was found to be false, making her ineligible for the $1,200 payment, according to court documents.

Kinney came to the attention of CCH administrators, legal counsel and trustees through her connection to her mother, who is a long-time CCH employee, as well as her ties within the community.

Gerrits said the organization and Kinney were in touch after the first affiliation vote failed the county commission. She was known to some of those in the organization, trustees and legal counsel as well.

“She gave us lots of verbal history and quite frankly she came on in the beginning as she was doing it for free,” he said. “She was the daughter of our radiology director and we knew her from school so we were like, ‘We’ll take whatever help we can get.’”

Information about Kinney or her company, ASK and Associates, is difficult to find online.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide reported in October that Kinney had been working as a public relations consultant for St. John’s Health in Jackson. Despite her business and herself being difficult to find online, she told the News&Guide her employment came mostly through word of mouth.

St. John’s Health Board of Trustees chair Susan Critzer told the News&Guide that Kinney came as a recommendation from their organization’s legal counsel, Lubnau & Law, which also represents the Campbell County Health hospital board.

“Am I sorry that I recommended her? Yeah. But I didn’t have any notice that she was doing anything wrong,” said hospital board attorney Tom Lubnau of Gillette.

He said her “tight-lipped” professional history was not a concern given the nature of her role as a crisis communicator.

“We did talk to her. She described her professional experience. It all seemed to check out,” Lubnau said. “Nobody in the universe at either hospital that we represent had any notice of any criminal activities against her.”

Lubnau said either board would have fired her had they any indication of the crimes she was involved in. He said a background check revealed nothing that would indicate the crimes she pleaded guilty to.

“I was shocked too. My name and reputation mean a lot to me,” Lubnau said. “To be associated with somebody who is convicted of doing those horrible things is just stomach turning to me. It disgusts me more than anything. I generally assume the best about people.”

Gerrits said Kinney consulted with CCH for free while the organization made a second bid to commissioners. Once they approved the deal, Kinney stayed on to help with the Hospice House situation and Medicaid repayment projects.

“To be honest with you, I was surprised at the news but you know, in talking to other board members and our attorney, at the end of the day, she did a great job for us and she wasn’t involved in anything that would have been financial transactions or any sort of things she got in trouble for,” Gerrits said.

The court will determine how much Kinney owes in restitution as part of her plea agreement, which is not public, when she is sentenced March 24 in Casper before U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson.