A complaint was unsealed today in United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York charging Mahalia Abraham, an employee of New York City Human Resources Administration’s Office of Research and Program Monitoring, and William Hopkins, with stealing approximately $59,000 in benefits earmarked for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”) and Temporary Aid to Needy Families Program (“TANF”), which are funded by federal tax dollars. The defendants will be arraigned this afternoon at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Vera M. Scanlon.
The charges were announced by Bridget M. Rohde, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Mark G. Peters, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigation (“DOI”).
As set forth in the complaint and other publicly filed documents, the charges against the defendants stem from an investigation that began when one SNAP recipient noticed $56 worth of benefits had been withdrawn from her SNAP electronic benefits transfer card (“EBT”) without her permission. The investigation revealed that Abraham had accessed more than 100 SNAP and TANF recipients’ files to check their account balances and access their EBT account numbers as well as the names, dates of birth, and social security numbers of the intended recipients. Abraham passed this information on to her boyfriend, Hopkins, who used this information to change the PIN numbers on their victims’ cards. Hopkins then keyed in the victims’ EBT card numbers and new PIN numbers at Rite Aid stores throughout Brooklyn in order to withdraw cash and purchase baby formula, which he sold to bodegas for cash. In total, the defendants Abraham and Hopkins stole approximately $53,000 in SNAP benefits and $6,000 in TANF benefits.
“As alleged, the defendants used Mahalia Abraham’s position as an HRA employee to access the personal information of public assistance recipients, and to steal tens of thousands of dollars earmarked for needy New Yorkers,” stated Acting United States Attorney Rohde. “This type of behavior directly contradicts what it means to be a public servant and will not be tolerated.” Ms. Rohde expressed her appreciation to DOI’s Office of the Inspector General for its assistance during the course of this year-long investigation.
“This case began with a complaint from a recipient who noticed $56 in SNAP benefits missing from her account and ultimately led DOI to uncover tens of thousands of dollars in fraud, according to the charges. Though this defendant and her associate stole government funds, their victims were vulnerable New Yorkers – like one recipient left to stand on soup kitchen lines while his benefits were diverted to feed their greed. DOI’s report released today details how this fraud was committed, and the steps that HRA should take to ensure these funds are safeguarded for the people who need them. DOI thanks the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York for its partnership on this investigation and HRA for its continued cooperation to enact meaningful reforms to tackle fraud,” stated DOI Commissioner Peters.
In conjunction with today’s arrests, DOI issued a report detailing the investigation’s findings and providing recommendations to HRA and other government entities aimed at safeguarding public assistance recipients’ personal data. A copy of the Report can be found at the following link: http://www1.nyc.gov/site/doi/newsroom/public-reports.page
The charges in the complaint are allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. If convicted of the offense, the defendants face a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment.
The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s General Crimes Section. Assistant United States Attorney Kaitlin T. Farrell is in charge of the prosecution.
Brooklyn, New York
Brooklyn, New York
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 17-MJ-282