(via Harris Graber's Flickr)
Eleven co-conspirators were arrested along with Cherrise Watson-Jackson, 44, who allegedly received kickbacks for various other schemes, totaling about $1.5 million in stolen government funds between 2012 and 2013. According to the Department of Investigation, Watson-Jackson enlisted recruiters to convince Brooklyn and Queens residents on public assistance to trade in their EBT cards for cash. The EBT cards were then used to issue fraudulent Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
Thirty-five-year-old Corey Brock was charged with receiving about $8,560 on his EBT card between October 2012 and November 2013, thanks to Watson-Jackson. Isaac Allen, 39, of Brooklyn has been accused of receiving about $9,444 between June 2012 and October 2013.
"During a season when we are reminded about hunger's prevalence, these defendants are charged with shamelessly stealing the funds that assist in feeding that basic need," said DOI Commissioner Mark Peters.
In a separate scheme, Watson-Jackson allegedly corralled a small group of New Yorkers to pose as landlords.
Watson-Jackson has been accused of registering each of them, and proceeded to issue them rental subsidy payments. Her "associates" then accompanied the fake landlords to cash-checking business like Pay-O-Matic, where they redeemed cash. Prosecutors say one Maurice Cromwell of Staten Island cashed 83 rental checks under other peoples' names, worth about $72,560. Vernecka Petersen-Fowler of Brooklyn cashed or deposited 43 rent checks totaling more than $31,000, a portion of which was transferred to her personal bank account, and subsequently over to Watson-Jackson.
Yesterday's arrests were the culmination of a joint investigation [PDF] by the DOI, the US Attorney's Office, the FBI, and the New York State Office of the Inspector General. Authorities also arrested 51-year-old Petrolina Peralta, a former HRA employee, for allegedly processing $600,000 in cash assistance benefits between 2008 and 2011 for about 140 ineligible recipients.
"Unfortunately, a very small number of our 14,000 employees used their positions at our agency to steal the benefits of others," said HRA Chairman Steven Banks in a statement. "HRA found and referred all of these cases to the DOI after discovering them through internal anti-fraud measures."
Watson-Jackson, who had been working for the city since 1993, was making $63,241 annually at the time of her arrest. She has been charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, and could face up to 20 years in prison.
In June, another HRA employee was arrested for allegedly doling out $250,000 worth of food stamps, for kickbacks between $100 and $200 per transfer.