Former Legal Aid Bureau Chief of Finance Charged in Scheme to Steal over $1.1 Million

May 26, 2010

Baltimore, Maryland - A criminal information was filed today charging Benjamin Louis King, a/k/a “Bennie King,” age 58, of Gwynn Oak, Maryland and Wendell Jackson, a/k/a “Sonny,” age 59, of Westminster, Maryland, with theft from a program receiving federal funds, in connection with a scheme to steal money from the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau.

The charges were announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge Richard A. McFeely of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Inspector General Jeffrey E. Schanz of Legal Services Corporation - Office of Inspector General.

According to the criminal information, the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau (Legal Aid) is a private, non-profit organization, whose mission is to provide high-quality free legal services to persons who cannot afford legal representation in civil matters. Legal Aid has offices throughout Maryland, with its headquarters in Baltimore. Legal Aid is funded by private donations and by grants from the Legal Services Corporation, which was created by the United States Congress to provide grants of federal funds in order to promote equal access to civil justice for poor and disadvantaged persons.

According to the criminal information Benjamin Louis King, a/k/a Bennie King was employed by Legal Aid from 1978 until January 2008 as the Chief of Finance and Wendell Jackson, a/k/a Sonny, owned and operated a check-cashing business in downtown Baltimore, with a store near Legal Aid’s headquarters.

Legal Aid purchased office supplies in bulk under a “blanket” system, whereby Legal Aid would be able to take advantage of bulk purchasing power without having to warehouse large amounts of supplies. Under this system, Legal Aid would prepay for supplies, and order them on an as-needed basis, drawing against the prepaid sum whenever one of the Legal Aid offices took delivery of supplies. King’s department at Legal Aid was in charge of paying invoices and administering the “blanket” purchasing agreement, making deductions as invoices were paid, and adding money if approved and allocated by Legal Aid’s Board of Directors and management.

According to the criminal information, in 1997, King approached Jackson about starting an office supply business for the purpose of selling to Legal Aid under the “blanket” system. Jackson created “Baltimore Office Supply,” for the purpose of selling office supplies, chiefly printer paper, envelopes and toner, to Legal Aid. The information alleges that King and Jackson planned that Baltimore Office Supply would inflate its invoices to Legal Aid, King would see that the invoices were paid, and King and Jackson would take the excess money and divide it. Baltimore Office Supply had no warehouse, no other customers, and in fact, Jackson did not even know how to create invoices. King allegedly showed Jackson where to purchase supplies and how to create invoices to Legal Aid.

According to the information, when Baltimore Office Supply invoiced Legal Aid for supplies, King, as the Chief of Finance, paid the invoices with Legal Aid funds. King and Jackson then split the proceeds, typically with 85% going to King in cash and 15% going to Jackson. The amount of money skimmed by the defendants between January 2004 and December 2007 exceeded $1.1 million, approximately 25% of which was directly attributable to federal grants that Legal Aid had received through the Legal Services Corporation.

King and Jackson face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. No court appearance has yet been scheduled for the defendants.

A criminal information is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by criminal information is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorney Barbara S. Sale, who is prosecuting the case.


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