New York State Inspector General Letizia Tagliafierro announced the guilty plea of an Alabama woman who collected nearly $70,000 in welfare benefits in New York State by misreporting her residency, employment and marriage status and using two different Social Security numbers. She also misrepresented her residence to obtain New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) rental benefits in excess of $50,000.
Latonja Serling, 57, of Calera, Alabama, pleaded guilty in New York City Criminal Court before Hon. Angela J. Badamo to Welfare Fraud in the 2nd Degree (C Felony) and Welfare Fraud in the 5th Degree (A misdemeanor). She was sentenced to a conditional discharge on both the felony and misdemeanor charges and must repay $50,000 in restitution within the next five years, at which point she will be able to have the felony charge removed. Serling has surrendered the NYCHA residence and one of the Social Security numbers that she used as part of her scheme.
In November 2018, the Office of the Welfare Inspector General (OWIG) received a complaint alleging that Serling was committing welfare fraud and collecting benefits via the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA).
OWIG’s investigation included reviewing real estate and employment records, use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, bank records, and Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn account postings. The investigation determined that from November 2012 to present, Serling misrepresented her residence as 218 West 112th Street in New York City when she resided in either Birmingham or Calera, Alabama. OWIG also determined that Serling failed to report her employment income, her marriage, and the income of her spouse – all of which she was required to report to HRA. The investigation also found that Serling used two different Social Security numbers and she misrepresented her residence to obtain $52,646 in rental benefits through a NYCHA program.
“For years, this individual stole tens of thousands of dollars intended for actual New Yorkers truly in need by lying about her residence, employment and more,” said Inspector General Tagliafierro. “She must repay the funds and give up her NYCHA address as part of her plea. We will continue to hold individuals who steal benefits from these important safety net programs accountable for their actions.”
Inspector General Tagliafierro thanked the New York City Department of Investigation’s Inspector General for NYCHA for partnering on the investigation, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for prosecuting the case and the Social Security Administration, NYCHA and HRA for assisting in the investigation.