Three Atlantic County employees have been charged with defrauding the state of hundreds of dollars in welfare benefits following Tropical Storm Irene, acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain announced Wednesday.
The three are accused of falsifying information to the county Department of Family & Community Development — for which they all work — to receive emergency food stamps under the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or D-SNAP.
Jocelyn Roberts, Rheba Lawrence and Janice Dorsey were charged July 30 with third-degree theft by deception and have been suspended from their jobs without pay.
The program is intended to provide food-stamp benefits to households that would not ordinarily be eligible except for a sudden need. While it has been around for nearly 40 years, New Jersey activated it for the first time following Irene in 2011. A state review found nearly 1 in 5 households receiving the benefits was ineligible.
Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, who previously raised concerns over how the program is administered, said Wednesday the state asked each county to provide a list of employees who applied for the program.
“They found that there were some discrepancies that they wanted us to take a look at, which is what we are doing,” he said.
The investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office Financial Crimes Unit found the three workers illegally received $1,845.
Roberts, 58, of Atlantic City, falsified an affidavit that she lost more than $500 in food, which she had not, according to the charges. She received $526.
Dorsey, 51, of Galloway Township, illegally received $526, after she allegedly lied about the number of people living in her home.
Lawrence, 77, of Pleasantville, got $793 by failing to report Social Security income, the charges allege.
“They’ve been good employees,” Levinson said. “It is shocking that this has occurred, but we’re going to withhold judgment. Everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
He said if the employees are cleared, they will be reinstated and get restitution. If not, “there’s a lesson here.”
“The investigation is pending,” Levinson said. “We’re doing what we have to do. Our first obligation is to the taxpayers of Atlantic County.”
The charge carries a possible prison term of three to five years, although time is not always presumed in third-degree crimes. The fines could be as much as $15,000.
Anyone who suspects welfare fraud can report it anonymously through a 24-hour hot line of the Atlantic County Department of Family & Community Development’s Fraud Investigation Unit at 800-FRAUD05, or 800-372-8305.
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