August 1, 2012
Two former Philadelphia area DPW caseworkers charged with stealing nearly $300,000 in state public assistance benefits
HARRISBURG - Agents from the Attorney General's Public Corruption Unit and Bureau of Criminal Investigation have arrested two Philadelphia area residents accused of using their positions with the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare to steal nearly $300,000 in public assistance benefits.
Attorney General Linda Kelly identified the defendants as Cynthia A. Lewis, age 47 of 16 Oxford St., Lansdowne, and Ivan Jones, age 43, of 1411 South Etting St., Philadelphia. Both Lewis and Jones worked as Income Maintenance Caseworkers at the Department of Public Welfare's Delaware County Assistance Office, located in Darby.
"Public assistance benefits are intended to aid Pennsylvania residents struggling to feed and support their families," Kelly said. "These individuals not only corrupted that system and stole taxpayer funds for their own personal gain, but literally took money and food from the mouths of families in need."
Kelly said these arrests are the result of an ongoing investigation by the Office of Attorney General into allegations of theft and fraud involving public assistance benefits in Pennsylvania. The charges announced today were recommended by a statewide investigation grand jury, which heard evidence and testimony about criminal activity involving state employees responsible for authorizing and administrating cash assistance, food stamps and other taxpayer funded benefits.
According to the grand jury, Cynthia Lewis fabricated and maintained six public assistance accounts and approved more than $250,000 in public assistance benefits for those bogus accounts. The funding that Lewis authorized was purportedly for food stamps, medical benefits and "special cash allowances" needed to cover other expenses for the recipients.
Kelly said the payments arranged by Lewis were placed on state-issued Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, which can be used much like ATM cards at businesses and banks. Photographs and video from surveillance systems at various financial institutions in the Philadelphia area allegedly show Lewis using EBT cards to withdraw funds from those accounts.
The grand jury determined that between 2007 and 2011 Lewis received more than $254,000 as a result of this criminal scheme. The stolen funds were allegedly for a variety of personal expenses, including two cruises along with gambling trips to casinos in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Kelly said that Ivan Jones is accused of operating a separate scheme - using the names and personal information of several existing public assistance recipients to open new cases and authorize payments to those individuals. Unbeknownst to those persons, EBT cards for those accounts were sent to various locations in Delaware County, including Jones' personal address. Images from surveillance systems at various ATM machines and banks allegedly show Jones using EBT cards to withdraw funds from those accounts.
Additionally, the grand jury found that Jones made arrangements with at least two other public assistance recipients to increase the amount of their benefits or authorize new payments if those individuals agreed to split the proceeds with Jones.
Kelly said that between 2007 and 2011 Jones allegedly stole nearly $39,000 as the result of these schemes.
Kelly noted that the Attorney General's investigation into the alleged misuse or theft of taxpayer funds is ongoing and additional arrests are anticipated.
Cynthia Lewis is charged with one count each of theft by unlawful taking, criminal use of a communication facility, and unlawful use of computer, all third-degree felonies which are each punishable by up to seven years in prison and $15,000 fines.
Ivan Jones is charged with five counts of theft by deception, five counts of criminal use of communication facility, five counts of unlawful use of a computer and two counts of criminal conspiracy, all third-degree felonies which are each punishable by up to seven years in prison and $15,000 fines.
The defendants were preliminarily arraigned on Tuesday, July 31st, before Darby Magisterial District Judge Leonard V. Tenaglia and released on their own recognizance.
Both defendants waived their preliminary hearings.
Formal arraignment for Lewis is scheduled for August 30th in Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.
Formal arraignment for Jones is scheduled for August 23rd, also in Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.
Lewis and Jones will be prosecuted in Delaware County by Senior Deputy Attorney General Marc Costanzo of the Attorney General's Public Corruption Unit.
Kelly thanked the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and Pennsylvania Office of the Inspector General for their cooperation and assistance with this continuing investigation.
(A person charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty)