Social Security workers among five charged in welfare-fraud scheme

Clockwise from top left: Sakeenah Belle, 31, Chanae Thomas, 31, Felicia Fernandez, 30, Shonda Wayman, 30, and Abigail Millian, 38.

Five women, including three former Social Security Administration employees, have been arrested in connection with what prosecutors are calling a “complex welfare, childcare and medical benefits scheme,” the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office announced Friday.

Investigators said Sakeenah Belle, 31, Chanae Thomas, 31, Felicia Fernandez, 30, Shonda Wayman, 30, and Abigail Millian, 38, received SNAP, subsidized childcare and medical assistance benefits totaling more than $76,000 between 2009 and early 2013.

Belle, Thomas and Fernandez, who were all employed by the Social Security Administration, are accused of under-reporting their annual incomes to fraudulently qualify for the benefits.

Wayman and Millian, who both worked at the Reading Rainbow Learning Center in Northern Liberties, are charged with conspiring with the other three women to continue receiving the fraudulent benefits.

Prosecutors said the Social Security Administration received a complaint March 6, 2012 alleging Belle was using the computer and hard drive assigned to her by the SSA to create bogus Leave and Earnings Statements for herself and the four other women.

The women allegedly used the fictitious statements to gain eligibility or to remain eligible for the welfare benefits.

Prosecutors said financial documents indicate that Belle, alone, fraudulently obtained $4,072 in SNAP, $2,805 in subsidized childcare and $32,219 in medical assistance benefits between March 2009 and December 2012.

Social Security Administration agents investigated the allegations and forwarded the information to the state Inspector General’s Office, which then referred the case to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

Detectives from the DA’s Government Fraud Unit arrested the five women Friday morning.

All five will be charged with forgery, theft by deception, welfare fraud, unlawful use of a computer and conspiracy, prosecutors said.

Belle, Thomas and Fernandez will also be charged with medical assistance fraud, while Belle, Fernandez, Wayman and Millian will be charged with tampering with public records. Thomas also faces a charge of unsworn falsification to authorities, prosecutors said.

Contact Alex Wigglesworth at 215-854-2305 or Follow @phila_lex on Twitter.

Contact the Breaking News Desk at 215-854-2443; Follow @phillynews on Twitter.