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Ex-AccuWeather ordered to pay restitution of more than $80K

WILLIAMSPORT — A former employee benefits administrator for AccuWeather Inc. who admitted stealing more than $80,000 from the State College commercial weather forecasting firm has been sentenced to a year and a day in prison.

U.S. Middle District Judge Matthew W. Brann on Monday told Aira Nelson, 38, of West Chapel, Florida, he did not accept her claim she took the money out of necessity.

He accused her of enacting a complex scheme that began in September 2015 shortly after she was hired by AccuWeather.

Nelson pledged to pay the court-ordered restitution of $82,011 from the proceeds if she is successful in a lawsuit stemming from a 2020 accident in which she suffered back and neck injuries.

Nelson, who is to self-report to prison on Oct. 4, will be on supervised release for two years when she gets out.

She squandered a very good job, Assistant U.S. Attorney George J. Rocktashel said.

“It was out of desperation,” Nelson told Brann in explaining her conduct. She claimed she and her husband were having serious financial issues.

Assistant public defender Gerald A. Lord spelled out in detail in a sentencing memorandum how Nelson and her husband were living paycheck to paycheck and unable to catch up with their bills after he lost his job.

She admitted when she pleaded guilty March 4 to a wire fraud charge she used her access to AccuWeather’s benefits, payroll and human resources information systems to establish fictitious Flexible Spending Accounts for herself, her husband and seven others.

Employees through payroll deductions contribute to the accounts that are used for reimbursement of qualified health care and dependent care costs.

She was charged with receiving $88,992 in false claims reimbursements and $9,922 by defrauding the Highmark AccuWeather health and dental insurance program.

Nelson never enrolled in the benefits program and did not have any money deducted from her paycheck, Rocktashel said at her guilty plea.

Nelson left AccuWeather in July 2018 to become director of benefits at Ultimate Medical Academy in Tampa, Florida, a position she no longer holds. She pleaded with Brann to “give me a chance so I can start fresh.”

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