Seven former Delaware employees charged with fraud

DOVER – Seven former state of Delaware employees have been indicted for alleged fraud involving Electronic Benefit Transfer cards, officials announced on Tuesday.

Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn said the former Department of Health and Social Services employees were responsible for issuing EBT cards, and three previous arrests were also part of the investigation.

A news release described the alleged offenses as “theft of federal money.”

The DHSS said it uncovered and investigated an alleged benefits fraud scheme by employees who defrauded the U.S. government of more than $950,000 in federal funding from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Employees found to have direct involvement in the alleged benefits fraud scheme were terminated by DHSS in 2015, officials said, and the Department’s investigation was referred to prosecutors.

The DHSS said internal investigation began in December 2014 and was led by the DHSS Audit and Recovery Management Services unit, with the cooperation and assistance of the Division of Social Services. The ARMS unit found that seven employees allegedly created more than 100 fictitious SNAP cases to procure electronic benefit cards that could be used to purchase food.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees and funds all SNAP benefits in Delaware and nationwide, was notified in January 2015 about the investigation and has provided assistance and guidance throughout the process. DHSS worked closely with both federal and state prosecutors and investigators as to the findings of the internal investigation.

First case emerges

The DHSS said the first case was discovered by a supervisor within the Division of Social Services who could not find the required documentation to support a benefits case during her case reviews. DHSS’s Audit and Recovery Management Services unit and the Division of Social Services began the internal investigation immediately and worked throughout with the USDA.

“I find it especially cruel and disheartening that anyone would steal from a supplemental food benefit for personal gain and greed,” DHSS Secretary Rita Landgraf said.

“As a result of efforts by the Division of Social Services, the Audit and Recovery Management Services unit, along

On Tuesday, authorities announced the arrests of, clockwise from upper left, Allison Rivera, Angelette Brown, Detrich Simmons-Smith, and Kamilah Laws. (Submitted photos/State of Delaware)

On Tuesday, authorities announced the arrests of, clockwise from upper left, Allison Rivera, Angelette Brown, Detrich Simmons-Smith, and Kamilah Laws. (Submitted photos/State of Delaware)

with the state Department of Justice and federal investigators, I am pleased that today we are one step closer to having justice done for the federal taxpayers.

“We have continued to be in close contact with our federal partners and will keep working with them to strengthen the internal controls that will make it more difficult for these crimes to occur, while ensuring that red flags are raised as immediately as possible when they do.”

Arrests, indictments

Two defendants were indicted and arrested last week, two others were indicted and remain at large, one was indicted and arrested previously and still faces charges, and two have already been convicted and sentenced, the Delaware Department of Justice said.

Investigation revealed that the fraudulent EBT cards were allegedly delivered to State Service Centers in New Castle and Kent County, and intercepted by the suspects working at those locations, authorities said. Once intercepted, the cards were personally used or sold at a discount, according to the DOJ.

The indictments resulted after a months-long joint effort of prosecutors and investigators from the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, Fraud Division and the Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust, along with the DHSS Audit and Recovery Management Services.

“This case is part of an intensified focus our office is trying to bring to fraud being committed against the state’s public benefit programs,” AG Denn said.

“These arrests come as the result of an in-depth investigation, supported by many agencies. We appreciate the cooperation from the Office of the Inspector General and the Audit and Recovery Management Services.

“From the Department of Justice, I specifically want to thank Deputy Attorneys General Matt Frawley, Phillip Casale, Allison Reardon and Dennis Kelleher, along with Special Investigators Robert Irwin, Brittney Ketler, Frank Robinson, and John Ciritella.”

The charges detailed

Indicted and arrested last week were:

• Detrich Simmons-Heath, 54, of Chestertown, Md. – charged with theft over $100,000, first-degree forgery, falsifying business records, and official misconduct. She was released on $6,000 unsecured bond.

• Kamilah Laws, 39, of Wilmington – charged with theft over $50,000, first-degree forgery, falsifying business records, and official misconduct. She was released on $5,000 unsecured bond.

Indicted last week on theft over $100,000, first-degree forgery, falsifying business records and official misconduct were Jo Ellen Edwards, 61, of Felton and Shirlene Davis, 29, of Newark.

• Nicole Stevens, 43, of Dover, was arrested in November 2015 and has pending indicted charges of theft over $1,500, official misconduct, first-degree forgery, falsifying business records, and four counts of unlawful use of a payment card for allegedly stealing $8,092.

Previously convicted and sentenced were:

• Allison Rivera, 49, of Dover, pled guilty to theft over $1,500, unlawful use of a payment card, and falsifying business records, and was sentenced in April 2016 to two years of Level II probation, and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $27,751.58.

• Angelette Brown, 45, of Camden, pled guilty to theft over $1,500, unlawful use of a payment card, and official misconduct and was sentenced to April 2016 to two years of Level II probation, ordered to do 240 hours of community service, and forced to repay the $15,957.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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