|TRENTON – Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino announced that a former clerk for the State of New Jersey was sentenced to prison today for falsifying state employment records to fraudulently collect more than $82,000 in government assistance benefits for which she was not qualified.
Tonia Ramaza-Williams, 40, of Willingboro, was sentenced to three years in state prison by Superior Court Judge Timothy P. Lydon in Mercer County. She pleaded guilty on Nov. 28 to a charge of second-degree theft by unlawful taking. Ramaza-Williams formerly was head clerk for the Mercer North Local Office of the Department of Children and Families, Division of Child Placement and Permanency. She forfeited her job and must pay full restitution of $82,769.
Deputy Attorneys General Mallory Shanahan and Brian Faulk prosecuted Ramaza-Williams for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. The case was investigated by the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption Bureau. The state investigation began with a referral from the Mercer County Board of Social Services.
The investigation revealed that Ramaza-Williams submitted five fraudulent Notices of Disciplinary Action to the Mercer County Board of Social Services (MCBSS) purporting to be from her employer, the Department of Children and Families (DCF). She also submitted six false letters purportedly from DCF indicating that on multiple occasions she was suspended, demoted and had her salary reduced. In reality, she was suspended only once, in November 2008, was never demoted, never received a salary reduction, and at all times during the relevant period received an income that made her ineligible for social services benefits. As a result of the fraudulent information and documents she submitted, Ramaza-Williams, from 2009 to 2013, received a total of $14,998 in benefits from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), $16,968 in benefits from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), $42,156 from Medicaid, and $8,647 in Emergency Assistance benefits from MCBSS to which she was not entitled. The thefts from MCBSS totaled $82,769. During the years in question, Ramaza-William’s state salary ranged from roughly $40,000 to $50,000.
“This defendant shamelessly lied about her taxpayer-funded income in order to steal government assistance benefits that should have been reserved for those truly in need,” said Attorney General Porrino. “This prison sentence sends a message that we have zero tolerance for this type of fraud, especially when it involves a public employee who games the system.”
“We work closely with social service agencies to ensure that offenders who steal from government assistance programs are strictly prosecuted for their crimes,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We urge anyone with information about suspected thefts of government benefits to contact the Division of Criminal Justice confidentially.”
“Ms. Ramaza-Williams’ fraudulent plot not only took advantage of a system designed to support disadvantaged families, but it’s a slap in the face to those who are desperately in need of assistance,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “The tireless efforts of the Official Corruption Bureau detectives halted a scheme which defrauded more than $82,000 of state-funded benefits.”
Attorney General Porrino and Director Honig noted that the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau has established a toll-free Corruption Tipline 866-TIPS-4CJ for the public to report corruption, financial crime and other illegal activities. The public also can log on to the Division of Criminal Justice webpage at www.njdcj.org to report suspected wrongdoing confidentially.
Attorney General Porrino commended Deputy Attorneys General Shanahan and Faulk and the detectives of the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption Bureau for their work on the case. Attorney General Porrino also thanked the Mercer County Board of Social Services for referring the case for investigation.
Josue Jean Baptiste, Esq., and Adam Rosengard, Esq., Jean Baptiste & Associates LLC, Clifton, N.J.
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