YAKIMA — The girlfriend of a man missing from Yakima for nearly three and a half years has been charged with welfare fraud.
Ladena Mann, 51, appeared by summons Friday in Yakima Superior Court on felony welfare charges linked to Larry Riegel’s disappearance, The Yakima Herald-Republic reported in Saturday’s newspaper.
The disabled 57-year-old contract pilot has not been in contact with his family since Christmas Day 2009. Yakima police consider him a possible, if not probable, victim of foul play.
According to state welfare-fraud investigators, Mann used Riegel’s electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card several times in the weeks after his disappearance for $1,503 in financial assistance, including groceries.
She also filled out an EBT-card eligibility form claiming Riegel still lived with her, even though by then he had been missing for more than two months, investigators said.
As a result, prosecutors filed three charges against Mann: first-degree theft (welfare fraud), second-degree perjury and false verification for public assistance. All three charges are felonies.
Mann, who is free on her own recognizance, spoke with the Yakima Herald-Republic after the arraignment.
According to Mann, Riegel called several people — including his boss, whom she didn’t identify — in the first two months after his alleged disappearance.
Saying she was “absolutely” certain Riegel is still alive somewhere, possibly in Idaho or Montana, Mann lashed out at his relatives, accusing them of having a vendetta against her.
She disputed claims the 6-foot-2 Riegel was physically vulnerable after having had neck surgery, and claimed his mother has suspiciously left town every Mother’s Day for the past three years.
“Right off the get-go, they started saying horrible things about me,” she said. “They didn’t have no reason to say those things … It’s just snowballed.”
As for why she used his EBT card, she said she always did the shopping and that she expected him to return home someday with his tail between his legs — and expecting food in the pantry.
“I’m the only one who ever used it,” she said of the card, adding, “I didn’t know when he was going to come home. … I’m so stupid. I took him back every single time.”
Information from: Yakima Herald-Republic, http://www.yakimaherald.com