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January 7, 10

NEWS / Newark Woman Pleads Guilty in Conspiracy to Defraud Federal Child Nutrition Program

State investigation uncovered $1 million in phony vouchers

TRENTON Ė Acting Attorney General Ricardo Solano Jr. and Division of Criminal Justice Director Deborah L. Gramiccioni announced that a Newark woman pleaded guilty today to assisting a former employee of the City of Newark in a conspiracy to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from the federally funded Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program by means of fraudulent vouchers.

According to Director Gramiccioni, Veronica Anderson, 51, of Newark, pleaded guilty to a charge of third-degree receiving stolen property before Superior Court Judge Michael A. Petrolle in Essex County. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Anderson be sentenced to a term of probation.

Deputy Attorney General Michael A. Monahan took the guilty plea for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Judge Petrolle scheduled Andersonís sentencing for March 3.

In pleading guilty, Anderson admitted that she assisted Charles Brown, a former senior clerk for the Newark WIC Program, in the distribution of fraudulent vouchers. Brown did not have a car or driverís license, and Anderson, who did, would drive Brown to distribute the vouchers. She admitted that Brown paid her between $100 and $200 each time she drove him.

An ongoing investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau revealed that between Dec. 1, 2005, and Jan. 31, 2007, Brown and other employees of the Newark WIC Program conspired to issue more than $1 million in fake vouchers.

Brown, 42, of Newark, previously 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 Judge Petrolle. On Feb. 20, 2009, another former senior clerk in the Newark WIC Program, Wyetta Judson, 39, of Newark, pleaded guilty to second-degree official misconduct. She has not been sentenced yet. The state will recommend that she also be sentenced to state prison.

On Dec. 1, Benedicto Bernal, 31, of Newark, owner of Dreamers Supermarket on 7th Ave. in Newark, pleaded guilty to a charge of first-degree money laundering before Superior Court Judge Edward M. Neafsey in Mercer County.

In pleading guilty, Bernal, who was not an authorized WIC vendor, admitted that he purchased fraudulent vouchers from Brown 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 throughout New Jersey. Bernal admitted that his transactions were designed to conceal the source of the vouchers and their fraudulent nature.

The state will recommend that Bernal be sentenced to 10 years in state prison, one-third of which would have to be served without possibility of parole.

Bernal was charged in an eight-count state grand jury indictment obtained by the Division of Criminal Justice on June 8, 2009. The indictment also charged Audrey Walker Bey, 36, of Newark, a former clerk for the Newark WIC Program and Elvis Manuel Sanchez-Vasquez, 35, a former owner and manager of Sanchez Supermarket on Springdale Avenue in East Orange.

The charges against Walker Bey and Sanchez-Vasquez are pending. Walker Bey was arrested in May 2008 as a result of the investigation and is free on $40,000 bail. An arrest warrant has been issued for Sanchez-Vasquez, who remains a fugitive.

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.

Deputy Attorneys General Monahan and Jeffrey Manis are prosecuting the case. The investigation was conducted by Detective Michael Behar and Sgt. David Salzmann of the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau, with the assistance of Administrative Analyst Kathleen Ratliff.

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.




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