D.C. worker expected to plead guilty to stealing more than $800,000 in public benefits

A former District social services worker intends to plead guilty to stealing more than $800,000 in food stamps, cash and other public assistance, her attorney said Tuesday.

Aretha Holland-Jackson, who was responsible for processing public benefits for needy D.C. families, was accused in federal court Tuesday of carrying out the theft by setting up benefits for nearly two dozen fictitious beneficiaries.

Holland-Jackson, 45, was initially charged in D.C. Superior Court in the fall. But the office of U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. subsequently decided to bring the case as a federal conspiracy, charging Holland-Jackson and her sister, Allison Holland.

At the District’s Department of Human Services, prosecutors said, Holland-Jackson used fake names and Social Security numbers to obtain government identification cards for phony beneficiaries. She had access to the department’s computer system, which allowed her to open new cases and activate benefits.

According to court papers, the sisters then used the government debit cards to withdraw cash from multiple accounts and to buy groceries with food stamp benefits. Prosecutors said Holland-Jackson received about $300 in kickbacks per card from another unnamed co-conspirator.

Holland-Jackson, of Bowie, is cooperating with prosecutors and has accepted responsibility, according to her attorney, Michael Lasley. He said she got caught up in the scheme after developing an addiction to prescription pills.

“It is an aberration on her part. She is trying to address it and move on with her life,” Lasley said.

From July 2011 through August 2013, prosecutors allege, Holland-Jackson’s sister withdrew about $8,100 in benefits known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, to which she was not entitled and used food stamp benefits totaling about $10,400. Holland, 47, of Cheltenham, Md., saved the cash in a shoe box for her sister, court papers say.

Holland’s attorney, Nikki Lotze, said that her client also intends to plead guilty and that her participation in the scheme was “very minimal.”

“When she got involved in her sister’s scheme, Ms. Holland was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer,” Lotze said in an e-mail. “She very much regrets her involvement and plans to make restitution.”

The scheme was uncovered by a fraud investigator at the Department of Human Services who then began working with federal prosecutors and D.C. police.

Holland-Jackson, who received a $54,039 salary last year, was arrested in September after using one of the debit cards to withdraw about $700 from an ATM on H Street NE. She was found with eight debit cards.

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Ann covers legal affairs in the District and Maryland for the Washington Post. Ann previously covered state government and politics in California, New Hampshire and Maryland. She joined the Post in 2005.
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