Former Maine emergency preparedness official faces new charges in fraud case
Joshua Cory Frances also was the head of Maine Task Force One, a group of EMTs and EMS physician assistants
Portland Press Herald
PORTLAND, Maine — A former emergency preparedness director for Maine Medical Center who pleaded guilty to impersonating a Homeland Security officer is facing new charges of submitting false letters of support before his sentencing.
Joshua Cory Frances, 45, admitted to using that false identity to buy two boats — and then spending more than $14,000 in Maine Medical Center funds to transport them from California to Maine.
Federal investigators now say he submitted several false and misleading letters to the court for a judge to reference during his sentencing.
According to an affidavit filed Wednesday, Frances submitted letters that misrepresented his history and credentials, in the name of real friends, former colleagues and family.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen issued a warrant for Frances' arrest Wednesday and ordered that his bail be revoked.
Frances was the director of emergency preparedness for Maine Medical Center from 2015 until he was fired in August 2016 for misspending hospital funds and other "inappropriate behavior," according to a criminal complaint. He also was the head of Maine Task Force One, a group of physician assistants and EMTs who provided emergency medical services at events, including air shows and the Maine Lobster Dip in Old Orchard Beach.
Maine Task Force One is not a law enforcement agency. But Frances repeatedly used his government email address to identify himself as an employee of the federal Department of Homeland Security, the affidavit said.
That's how he was able to buy a Boston Whaler, a sailboat and two marine outboard engines from a federal agency handling excess Department of Defense property.
In early August, Frances began submitting documents that he wanted the judge to consider before sentencing. The materials included a nine-page letter he wrote, telling the court he was "heartbroken and embarrassed" by his actions.
Frances also submitted about a dozen letters claiming to be from friends and family, all signed electronically.
Michael Ryan, a special agent for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General, began investigating those letters in August.
One letter was in the name of Olan Johnston, who worked with Frances in the early 2000s, but Ryan doesn't think Johnston wrote it, or at least not all of it.
"I believe that Mr. Johnston's June 21, 2022, letter of support was edited after it was reviewed and electronically signed by Mr. Johnson on August 2, 2022, and before it was emailed to the court and the governments on August 9, 2022," Ryan wrote in the affidavit.
Ryan does not say in the court document who he believes is responsible for the revisions.
He said this letter and others were written by a "third party contractor," who interviewed Johnston and others over the phone. The contractor was identified in the affidavit as Ash Narayan, a former financial adviser and disbarred attorney in California who was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison on fraud charges.
Narayan turned over copies of nine letters that he wrote on Frances' behalf after phone interviews with Frances' family, his counselor and former co-workers.
Narayan told Ryan he sent the letters to Frances in April and June of this year, assuming that Frances would forward each letter to the person it was signed by for review.
Comparing the letters Narayan sent Frances to those that were submitted to the court, Ryan said he identified several changes that added false information.
'A STRONG REACTION'
Jeff Hilliard, identified as Frances' counselor and life coach in one letter, told Ryan he had not seen a copy of the letter sent to the court in his name, nor had he been the one to sign it. He said the document gave him "a strong reaction because, as a counselor, I don't do this type of vouching."
A letter signed electronically by Frances' father, David Frances, falsely stated that Joshua Frances had testified before Congress as a "leading expert at Harvard School of Public Health" and that he had been invited to the White House by former President Barack Obama, Ryan said.
The documents below, included in an affidavit filed Wednesday, show changes in red made to letters submitted on Joshua Frances' behalf. A federal investigator identified several changes that added false information.
Another letter allegedly from Joshua Frances' mother, Elaine Cory — although it misspelled her last name as Corey — said that she was "mobility-impaired" and "bedridden." The assistant manager of Cory's residence in Massachusetts, who sees her daily, told Ryan "he often sees Ms. Cory walking and described her to be in very good health for a 75-year-old woman," the affidavit states.
Three other supposed letter writers declined to speak with Ryan. A fourth confirmed he had submitted a letter, written by a third party on Frances' behalf, but declined to confirm its accuracy.
Ryan was unable to reach Jeremy Scheinker, whose letter to the court listed his title as "Director of Homeland Security for the state of Maryland." Not only does this position not exist, Ryan wrote, but the closest role — Director of the Maryland Governor's Office of Homeland Security — currently is filled by Walter F. "Pete" Landon.
As Ryan began investigating, he wrote, Frances started reaching out to the people whose testimonials had been sent to the court.
EMAIL TO LETTER WRITERS
In an email Frances sent on Aug. 4, he told them they did not have to speak with anyone from the court about their letters.
"Hi gang," Frances' email began. "I wanted to let you know how grateful I am for the letter of support you provided." He went on to say that his attorney "wanted me to simply give you a gentle reminder" that they did not have to speak to the court or the government, even to verify that they wrote the letters. "You are under no obligation to speak to them in any capacity," Frances wrote. "I'd appreciate if you would heed his expert advice on this."
Frances' attorney at the time, Walt McKee, said in an email Monday that he offered no such reminder.
"I did not nor have I ever advised a witness to not speak to court officials," said McKee, who on Aug. 15 filed a motion to withdraw as Frances' attorney and another to withdraw 12 of Frances' letters of support from the court's consideration.
Frances is currently being represented by public defender David Beneman.
No new sentencing date has not been set.
(c)2022 the Portland Press Herald