Although no criminal charges were brought against the owners of a group home in connection with a fatal 2006 fire, the event brought to light the allegedly illegal activities of its owners. Robert and LaVerne DuPont were recently on trial for federal fraud charges, including health care fraud and money laundering, in connection with their operation of several group homes.

Robert DuPont, 65, was convicted in 2002 for his involvement in Medicaid fraud and sentenced to 21 months in federal prison. The terms of his conviction prohibited his involvement in businesses receiving federal Medicaid funds for the care of the elderly or disabled, such as group homes. Soon after Robert went to prison, LaVerne, 74, was named executive director of Joplin River of Live Ministries, a nonprofit religious group that allegedly ran several group homes, including the Anderson Guest House, the site of the 2006 fire.

Fraud charges against Robert allege that he was operating several Missouri group homes from prison and after his release, in violation of his prior conviction. Robert has denied the allegations, stating that a 2004 federal bankruptcy petition listing his occupation as executive director of River of Life Ministries was a ‘clerical error’, assisted by the help of Chapter 13 bankruptcy attorneys.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney James Kelleher, the ministry was a “front” for the illegal group home activity, and LaVerne just a “shadow operator”. “Prior to becoming executive director, her only involvement was to bake pies for the residents,” Kelleher said.

However, Robert testified that his wife’s background made her an ideal manager of the company. According to Robert, LaVerne had extensive experience managing daycare centers, clothing stores, and other business. “LaVerne had a lot more business experience than I did,” he said.

Robert’s attorney argued that the Medicaid exclusion of his 2002 conviction only restricted him from actively caring for patients. District Judge Greg Kays is expected to issue a decision soon.