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Tribal chief ordered to pay over $13,000 restitution in home-care fraud case

Matt Brannon
Redding Record Searchlight
Caleen Sisk, left, the spiritual leader and tribal chief of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, appears in Shasta County Superior Court on April 17, 2019, with her attorney, Melissa Fanoe. Sisk faces charges of improperly entering thousands of hours on her time sheet as an employee of California In-Home Support Services.

Three years after she was accused of fraud, the chief of a local tribe has been ordered to pay over $13,000 in restitution and convicted of a misdemeanor. 

Caleen Sisk, chief of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe and a former candidate for state Assembly, was told to pay $13,170.79 to In-Home Support Services after prosecutors alleged she submitted time sheets for hours she did not work but subcontracted to family members, according to court records. 

Sisk’s attorney, Melissa Fanoe, said her client never profited off subcontracting and characterized the claims as “rule violations.” Fanoe said Sisk was taking care of a woman who needed 24-hour attention, and that Sisk wanted to make sure the woman was looked after when she wasn’t around. 

“Ultimately she accepted responsibility for the mistakes that were made,” Fanoe said. “But there was no intent to defraud IHSS.” 

Caleen Sisk, chief of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, speaks during a meeting in December 2018 on a proposal to raise the height of Shasta Dam.

While prosecutors initially charged Sisk with seven felonies, that was later brought down to one misdemeanor fraud charge, to which she pleaded no contest in late January, according to court records. 

The Shasta County District Attorney's office began looking into Sisk in July 2017 after receiving a Medi-Cal complaint from IHSS, according to an investigative report.

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Citing IHSS records, the DA’s office originally said the state paid Sisk $38,300 for 4,441 hours she claimed on her time sheet but did not work, with overpayments issued from July 2013 to August 2017. Fanoe said Thursday that dollar amount was based on incorrect information from IHSS.

Prosecutors formally charged Sisk in March of 2018, shortly after she announced she’d be running as a Democrat for the state Assembly seat representing the Redding area.

While that case played out, prosecutors filed a second case against Sisk in November 2019, this time alleging four felony counts: grand theft and three fraud-related charges.

That case involved accusations of a fraudulent 2016 workers compensation claim, according to Ben Hanna, chief deputy district attorney. Hanna said it was dismissed as part of the plea agreement with the original case.

Hanna said Sisk has paid the $13,170.79 restitution amount in full. 

Caleen Audrey Sisk

Fanoe said Sisk still contests the restitution dollar amount but chose to resolve the case as it had gone on for a long time and Sisk wanted closure. 

“I hate to see people painted in a negative light when they’re doing good things for people,” Fanoe said. “Ms. Sisk is one of my kindest clients. She’s also a respected community member, and she’s an advocate for the Winnemem Wintu people. … She’s out there in our community making a difference.” 

Sisk was also ordered one year of informal probation. She did not return a call for comment on this article as of publication. The case was prosecuted by Jacob Lauser. 

More on this case:

Matt Brannon covers politics, the criminal justice system and breaking news for the Record Searchlight. Follow him on Twitter @MattBrannon_RS. Support local coverage and keep up with the North State for as little as $1 a month. Subscribe today