New York City Employee and Nine Others Charged in Manhattan Federal Court with Food Stamp Bribery Scheme
Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Mark G. Peters, the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigation (“DOI”), and Diego Rodriguez, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced today the arrest of HARRY FLETCHER, an employee of the New York City Human Resources Administration (“HRA”), along with STANLEY HILL, KAREEM WASHINGTON, JAMES FORD, KENNETH WILLIAMSON, MARSHA RALPH, JASON BRYCE, KEVIN WHYTE, YESENIA VELAZQUEZ, and JOSEPH BULL, in connection with a food stamp fraud scheme. The Complaint alleges that FLETCHER, an HRA Eligibility Specialist whose job involved evaluating the issuance of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”) benefits for New York City residents, solicited and accepted cash payments in exchange for issuing SNAP benefits to numerous individuals, including the remaining charged defendants. The defendants were arrested today and presented in Manhattan federal court before U.S. Magistrate Debra Freeman.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Harry Fletcher allegedly stole directly from the tables of some of the most vulnerable of our citizens, pocketing and misusing federal aid resources meant to help the less fortunate New York City residents feed their families.”
DOI Commissioner Peters said: “City workers who steal public funds undercut the effectiveness of government and its ability to help some of the neediest New Yorkers. This is fraud at its most shameful: HRA employees who used their public positions to enrich themselves and their associates, rather than the eligible individuals who willingly and diligently went through the vetting process, according to the charges. DOI will continue to work with its federal, state and City law enforcement partners to make arrests in these types of crimes.”
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Rodriquez said: “As alleged today, public funds were allocated to ineligible recipients of social service benefit programs. In a scheme to divert this money to those who did not qualify for assistance, those charged breached the trust of the public and will be held accountable for their actions.”
According to the allegations in the Complaint unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:
The New York City Human Resources administration provides temporary help to individuals and families with social service and economic needs to assist them in reaching self-sufficiency. Its services include, among other things, providing food stamps to low-income families and individuals. Although the SNAP benefits program is administered locally through HRA, it is funded entirely by the federal government. To apply for SNAP benefits, an applicant must complete and sign an application form listing, among other things, the applicant’s income and financial assets. HRA Eligibility Specialists such as FLETCHER are supposed to interview SNAP program applicants and review applicant documentation in order to determine if the applicant is eligible to receive SNAP benefits.
Beginning in 2009, FLETCHER approached two landlords, who are referred to in the Complaint as CW-1 and CW-2, and who have pled guilty and are cooperating with the Government, and offered to provide CW-1 and CW-2 with monthly SNAP benefits in return for reoccurring payments of hundreds of dollars in bribes. CW-1 and CW-2 agreed to pay the bribes and, as a result, received tens of thousands of dollars of SNAP benefits for which they were not eligible from 2009 through 2015. CW-1 and CW-2 then recruited other individuals to take part in the scheme—including, but not limited to, the other defendants charged in the complaint—each of whom obtained monthly SNAP benefits arranged by FLETCHER, and without regard to whether the applicant qualified for such benefits, in return for continual bribes. In total, FLETCHER accepted more than $20,000 in bribes for improperly approving over $240,000 in SNAP benefits to CW-1, CW-2 and the remaining defendants. The applicants bribing FLETCHER were ineligible for SNAP benefits due to their income and/or the fact that they did not reside in New York City and thus were not eligible for New York City social service programs.
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FLETCHER, 44, of the Bronx, New York, is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; one count of solicitation and receipt of bribes, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison; one count of honest services fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; and one count of theft of government funds, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
The following defendants were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and one count of theft of government funds, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison:
- HILL, 48, Walkill, New York,
- WASHINGTON, 34, White Plains, New York
- FORD, 52, Jamaica, New York
- WILLIAMSON, 51, the Bronx, New York
- RALPH, 38, New Rochelle, New York
- BRYCE, 42, New Rochelle, New York
- WHYTE, 30, Wappingers Falls, New York
- VELAZQUEZ, 37, the Bronx, New York
- BULL, 39, the Bronx, New York
The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by a judge.
Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of the DOI and the FBI in the investigation. He also expressed his thanks to the Bronx County District Attorney’s Office for its assistance in the investigation.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Public Corruption Unit. Assistant United States Attorney Robert L. Boone is in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Complaints are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.