D.C. worker accused of stealing over $700,000

A District social services worker whose job was to help low-income families apply for public benefits was accused Thursday with creating false identities to steal more than $700,000 in cash, food stamps and health benefits.

Aretha Holland-Jackson, 44, allegedly created identification cards for 14 fictitious beneficiaries, according to charging documents filed in D.C. Superior Court.

For each fake identity, Holland-Jackson received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, food stamps and Medicaid benefits, according to court papers. Between February 2011 and September 2013, she claimed at least $734,544 in public assistance benefits, court papers say.

Court papers say the investigation reached a key point Wednesday when agents with the Department of Human Services received information that one of the debit cards was being used at a bank on H Street NE. Holland-Jackson was stopped in the same block, according to court papers. Eight debit cards were found on her, authorities allege, and about $134,820 in benefits had been taken from those cards since February 2011.

After her arrest, according to the documents, Holland-Jackson admitted to authorities that she withdrew funds from accounts under false names. She said she split the proceeds with others, including a sister whose photo she had used to create one of the cards, court papers say.

Holland-Jackson was charged with first-degree fraud.

DHS Director David A. Berns said that while he couldn’t discuss the details of the investigation, he has “no tolerance” for public servants who violate the public trust.

“Fraud in this agency is totally unacceptable, whether it’s with clients, contractors or our staff,” he said. “We will pursue and prosecute this case to the full extent of the law.”

Holland-Jackson has worked at DHS since 2005 as what city officials called a “front-line eligibility worker.” She worked as an intake representative, meeting with needy families applying for benefits to determine whether they qualified for them. City records showed her salary was $54,039 this year.

The alleged fraud was uncovered after DHS hired a new fraud investigator and began using “enhanced procedures” to uncover errors and wrongdoing, one high-ranking city official said. Once an internal investigation focused on Holland-Jackson, the city began working with the U.S. attorney and D.C. police.

The city is terminating Holland-Jackson, officials said. A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 25. As part of her release Thursday, a D.C. Superior Court judge ordered her to undergo drug testing.

Holland-Jackson, who lives in Bowie, did not respond to several phone messages. Her court-appointed attorney, Ravi Regunathan, declined to comment.

Mike DeBonis and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.

Brigid Schulte writes about work-life issues and poverty, seeking to understand what it takes to live The Good Life across race, class and gender.
Keith Alexander covers crime, specifically D.C. Superior Court cases for The Washington Post. He has covered dozens of crime stories from Banita Jacks, the Washington woman charged with killing her four daughters, to the murder trial of slain federal intern Chandra Levy.
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