A former D.C. government employee was arrested recently on multiple fraud charges in connection to a scheme that cost the city more than $300,000, the Department of Justice said.
Rhayda Barnes Thomas, 51, was arrested Tuesday and charged with five counts of wire fraud, three counts of bank fraud, seven counts of aggravated identity theft, and one count of first-degree fraud, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia said in a news release.
A grand jury at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia indicted her on Sept. 29. She appeared in court and has been released “pending the proceedings,” the release said.
Ms. Thomas worked for the D.C. Project Empowerment program, in which she herself was a participant from August 2013 to February 2014, DOJ officials said, referring to the indictment.
The program offers employment services to city residents with barriers to employment, such as felon status, substance abuse, or a history of cycling between jobs.
One part of the program involves government-subsidized work at job sites. The employers enter hours into the Project Empowerment electronic system, and the government doles out payment to accounts associated with participants, mostly in the form of prepaid bank debit cards.
Between May 2015 and April 2018, Ms. Thomas is alleged to have revived defunct employee profiles before altering a database to show these employees working for a nonprofit, according to the indictment.
Ms. Thomas has also been accused of using the identity of a former employee of the nonprofit to enter time worked for these employees, setting up the payment into their accounts on new bank cards that she allegedly ordered, DOJ officials said, referring to the indictment.
As a result, the D.C. government requested Wells Fargo to fill the cards, costing them somewhere between $314,000 and $350,000 in losses.
Ms. Thomas participated in Project Empowerment as an employee because in 2011, she was sentenced to 27 months in prison for a scheme in which she used federal money granted to her Charles County school to buy personal electronics for herself and her family.
As the investigation into her alleged actions at Project Empowerment went on, Ms. Thomas had been working for the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency under the name “Rhayda Thomas-Barnes” starting in December 2019, according to the Washington City Paper.
“Court records show that she pleaded not guilty to all charges, and her attorney, Dwight Crawley, declined to comment when reached by phone Wednesday,” the City Paper reported.