A D.C. Superior Court judge ordered a Maryland woman yesterday to spend 26 weekends in jail after she pleaded guilty to a scheme in which she rented a city public housing unit in order to collect $30,000 in illegal welfare checks over the last 10 years.
Prosecutors said that Bessie McDuffie, a 39-year-old maid's supervisor at the Mayflower Hotel and the mother of four children, lives in a $72,000 house in Clinton, owns all or part of three cars and used the D.C. maildrop to get her checks "to elevate her standard of living to an upper-middle-class level at the expense of the taxpayers."
D.C. Superior Court Judge George D. Nielson sentenced Bessie McDuffie to the jail term and put her on five years' probation after she pleaded guilty to two counts of making false statements to public officials about her welfare eligibility. The judge said that during her probationary period, she must repay the $30,000 to the D.C. government in minimum monthly installments of $200, although the pay period may be extended at Neilson's discretion.
McDuffie, according to court papers, started receiving legitimate welfare payments from the D.C. Department of Human Services [DHS] for herself and three dependent children on May 11, 1968, when she was unemployed and lived in the Stanton Dwellings public housing complex at 1846 Alabama Ave. SE. She later took a job with the Mayflower Hotel on Aug. 6, 1968, without reporting her change in income status to DHS officials, the prosecutors said.
In a statement to District officials, which the city government requires of all welfare recipients at regular six-month intervals, McDuffie reported that on Dec. 13, 1968, she had no income despite the fact that she was then working at the hotel and earning enough money to disqualify her to receive benefits. She now makes more than $14,000 a year.
McDuffie's web of deceit became more entangled, court papers show, in July 1973 when, under the name of Bessie Crawford, she and her common-law husband, Edward Crawford, purchased a home at 3214 Beaumont St. in Marlow Heights. The prosecutors said Maryland school records show that the couple and their three children lived there until January 1979 when they sold the house and moved in another at 10410 Oursler Dr. in Clinton.
McDuffie, 39, failed to report her move to Prince George's County, a violation of city welfare laws. McDuffie told D.C. officials in mid-1976 that she still had no income and still lived at her previous D.C. address.
During the period from August 1968 to February 1979, Assistant Corporation Counsel Sherman B. Robinson said, she received 120 illegal welfare checks totaling $30,000. During one 18-month period, he said McDuffie received monthly public assistance payments of $296.65 while paying $51 rent on her Alabama Avenue public housing unit where she collected the checks.
Edward Crawford currently makes $16,000 a year as a truck driver for the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation. The couple's Maryland home is registered under the names of Edward and Bessie Crawford, as are their 1981 Ford Escort and their 1980 Lincoln Continental Mark IV. A 1975 Ford Mustang is listed in the name of Bessie Crawford, the prosecutors told Neilson.
Anthony Stewart, McDuffie's attorney, said the couple's life style "is not as high as the government projected," but conceded that "based on the circumstances, the duration [of the sentence] is fair."
Geoffrey M. Alprin, a deputy corporation counsel, said, "There are many other cases, but this is one of the largest and most egregious. We're going to go with as many of these cases as possible."