New York City Human Resources Administration Supervisor Pleads Guilty To Defrauding Two Public Assistance Programs Of More Than $1.8 Million
Eight Others Also Convicted for Multi-Year Scheme to Defraud Public Assistance Programs
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that CHERRISE WATSON-JACKSON, a/k/a “Reesie,” a supervisor with the New York City Human Resources Administration (“HRA”), pled guilty today to fraud offenses involving the theft of more than $1.8 million from two public assistance programs she helped to administer. WATSON-JACKSON, who was arrested in December 2015, entered her plea today before U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl, and is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Koeltl on August 5, 2016.
U.S. Attorney Bharara stated: “As she admitted today, Cherrise Watson-Jackson, a supervisor with the New York City Human Resources Administration, abused her official position to defraud public benefit programs out of nearly $2 million. Because of Watson-Jackson’s crimes, money meant for the needy went instead to the pockets of the corrupt.”
According to the Complaint, Superseding Indictment, other information in the public record, and today’s plea proceeding:
HRA is an agency of the City of New York responsible for administering various public assistance programs. Among other things, HRA 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, administering the federally-funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”) (more commonly known as “food stamps”), and providing rental assistance to low-income families and individuals.
Starting in 1993, WATSON-JACKSON worked at HRA, most recently as a supervisor in a job center in Queens, New York. In that capacity, she supervised a group of other supervisors who in turn were responsible for teams of employees who review and determine eligibility for public assistance clients. Since at least early 2012, and continuing until at least December 2013, WATSON-JACKSON abused her position by engaging in a scheme to defraud two of the public assistance programs that she was charged to help administer. The first of the two schemes involved WATSON-JACKSON fraudulently loading electronic benefit transfer (“EBT”) cards with funds from SNAP, and the cards were then used by co-conspirators throughout the New York City area. The second scheme involved WATSON-JACKSON fraudulently causing rental assistance checks to be mailed to co-conspirators who posed as “landlords” of low-income tenants. Co-conspirators then cashed and/or assisted others to cash the fraudulently obtained checks. The two schemes resulted in the loss of more than $1.8 million in public funds.
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WATSON-JACKSON, 45, of Queens, New York, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, each of which carries a statutory maximum of 20 years in prison. 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.
In connection with pleading guilty, WATSON-JACKSON also agreed to forfeit more than $1.8 million and to pay restitution of more than $1.8 million.
WATSON-JACKSON was arrested in December 2015, along with alleged co-conspirators Maurice Cromwell, a/k/a “Reese,” 40, of Staten Island, New York; Isaac Allen, 39, of Brooklyn, New York; Corey Brock, a/k/a “Cee,” 35, of Queens, New York; Derrick Williams, a/k/a “Blood,” 35, of Queens, New York; Vernecka Petersen-Fowler, 45, of Brooklyn, New York; Kevin Williams, 28, of Queens, New York; Jaron Annuziata, 36, of Brooklyn, New York; Beverly Franklin, 38, of Queens, New York; Beverly Lord, 54, of Queens, New York; Yesenia Depena, 24, of Brooklyn, New York; and Gerard Stokes, 32, of Queens, New York. To date, all defendants except Lord, Depena, and Stokes have pled guilty to their participation in one or both fraudulent schemes, and are scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Koeltl in the coming months.
U.S. Attorney Bharara thanked and praised the work of the New York City Department of Investigation, the New York State Office of Welfare Inspector General, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Public Corruption Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel C. Richenthal and Andrew D. Beaty are in charge of the prosecution.
The pending charges against Beverly Lord, Yesenia Depena, and Gerard Stokes are merely accusations, and these defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.