TRENTON – A former employee of the City of Newark has pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from the federally funded Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program by means of fraudulent vouchers, Attorney General Paula T. Dow and Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor announced.
According to Taylor, Audrey Walker Bey, 38, of Newark, a former clerk for the Newark WIC Program, pleaded guilty Tuesday afternoon (Oct. 4) to a charge of first-degree money laundering before Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Brown in Mercer County. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that she be sentenced to 10 years in state prison, one-third of which would have to be served without possibility of parole. She must pay restitution in an amount to be determined and will be permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey.
In pleading guilty, Bey admitted that she used her position as a clerk for the Newark WIC Program to issue and print thousands of fraudulent vouchers. An ongoing investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau revealed that between Dec. 1, 2005, and Jan. 31, 2007, Bey and other employees of the Newark WIC Program, including two former clerks who previously entered guilty pleas, conspired to issue more than $1 million in fake vouchers. Brown scheduled sentencing for Jan. 4, 2012.
WIC is a federally funded program, administered by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, that provides low-income women who are pregnant or breast feeding and guardians of children up to age 5 with vouchers to purchase nutritional necessities, including baby formula, milk, orange juice and cereal. The vouchers can be redeemed at any store approved as a WIC vendor for food items specifically listed on the voucher. Once redeemed, the vendor completes the voucher by filling in the cost of the product supplied. The Newark WIC Program is one of 18 WIC programs in New Jersey.
“Not only did this defendant betray the trust inherent in her public position, she stole federal funds that were meant to provide nutritional necessities for the disadvantaged children who are served by the Women, Infants and Children program,” said Dow. “We will recommend that she serve a lengthy prison sentence.”
“We are working hard to root out official corruption and misappropriation of public funds involving government assistance programs,” said Taylor. “We urge anyone with information about such abuse to contact us. We will thoroughly investigate any leads.”
Bey was charged on June 9, 2009 in an eight-count state grand jury indictment, which also charged Benedicto Bernal, 32, of Newark, owner of Dreamers Supermarket on 7th Ave. in Newark, and Elvis Manuel Sanchez-Vasquez, 37, of Elizabeth, a former owner and manager of Sanchez Supermarket on Springdale Avenue in East Orange.
On Dec. 1, 2009, Bernal pleaded guilty to first-degree money laundering before Superior Court Judge Edward M. Neafsey in Mercer County. Bernal, who was not an authorized WIC vendor, admitted that he purchased fraudulent vouchers from Charles Brown, a former senior clerk for the Newark WIC Program, and resold them by the stack to vendors in Essex, Camden, Union and Middlesex counties. Ultimately, the fraudulent vouchers were deposited into the bank accounts of more than 20 WIC-authorized vendors.
On Sept. 23, 2010, Sanchez-Vazquez pleaded guilty to first-degree money laundering before Neafsey. Sanchez-Vazquez, an authorized WIC vendor, admitted that he knowingly purchased fraudulent WIC vouchers from Bernal and deposited them in a bank account he controlled in order to fraudulently collect over $500,000 from the WIC program. He admitted that his transactions were designed to conceal the source and fraudulent nature of the vouchers.
The state will recommend that both Bernal and Sanchez-Vazquez also be sentenced to 10 years in state prison, one-third of which would have to be served without possibility of parole.
Brown, 44, of Newark, pleaded guilty to second-degree official misconduct for his role in the scheme and was sentenced on Feb. 23, 2009, to eight years in state prison by Superior Court Judge Michael A. Petrolle in Essex County. On Feb. 20, 2009, another former senior clerk in the Newark WIC Program, Wyetta Judson, 41, of Newark, pleaded guilty to second-degree official misconduct. The state will also recommend that she be sentenced to state prison.
The investigation began when the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services and the Newark Department of Health and Human Services alerted the Division of Criminal Justice to suspected thefts of vouchers from the Newark WIC Program.
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