During the six months that Bridgette Buckner worked for a health insurance administrator, her daughter and grandmother died, she was injured in a workplace accident and her husband, an FBI agent, was killed in the line of duty.
It was a string of horrible events that was almost unbelievable. And, as it turned out, totally untrue.
DuPage County Judge John Kinsella on Wednesday sentenced Buckner to 10 years in prison for defrauding her employer by filing false death claims and collecting insurance on her company's policy.
The judge imposed the sentence after listening to testimony that the former Bartlett resident pulled the same scam at a previous employer and also was involved in identity theft.
"It's clear that Bridgette Buckner is a con artist, a fraud," Assistant DuPage County State's Atty. Helen Kapas told the judge. "She's a thief."
Buckner, though, was not in court and remains at large, officials said. She pleaded guilty earlier this summer to insurance fraud but failed to appear when she was scheduled to be sentenced in August.
As a result, she was sentenced in absentia. A warrant has been issued for her arrest.
Buckner, 50, was arrested after she tried to collect insurance benefits a second time on her company policy while she was employed in 2008 at Hallmark Services, part of the Blue Cross family, authorities said. She had already received $10,000 for the death of daughter earlier that year and had put in for another claim in September, saying her husband, an FBI agent, had been killed in the line of duty.
That aroused the suspicion of Tom Bourgeois, a corporate investigator and a retired FBI agent whose father actually was an FBI agent killed in the line of duty.
"If anybody had been killed in the line of duty, we certainly would have known about it," he said.
Buckner was called in for an interview – she drove up in a Mercedes Benz, Bourgeois said – and was confronted with death certificates that Bourgeois and fellow investigator Diane Rivers described as obviously fraudulent. Buckner admitted faking the documents, they said.
Rivers, also a retired FBI agent, said she contacted HSBC, a banking company where Buckner had previously worked. Records there showed she was paid $60,000 after submitting claims that two of her children and her husband had died, the investigator said.
After being terminated from Hallmark, Buckner went to work for a temporary agency. While assigned to a medical testing company, she took confidential patient information she used to commit identity theft, authorities allege. Buckner has been charged in Cook County in that case and failed to appear for her most recent court date.
Rivers said while working at the temp agency, Buckner took bereavement leave after reporting that her daughter had died.
"The same child died a third time," Rivers said.
Although Buckner wasn't in court, she sent a letter to the judge, asking for a second chance.
She said in the letter that she had been called to ministry.
"I know God has forgiven me and does not address this crime anymore," she wrote. "But I have to live with this shame on myself and my family."