Stay in jail, judge orders Little Rock suspect in welfare fraud

A Little Rock woman recently indicted on 17 counts of wire fraud was ordered jailed until trial after a federal agent testified Monday that officers found 17 bags full of other peoples' Social Security numbers and dates of birth in her Rebsamen Park Road apartment.


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Kevin Porter, an agent with the inspector general's office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, testified that officers executing a search warrant at Apartment 312 at the Vantage Point complex found "the most I've ever seen in any location" of both personal identifiers and detailed notebooks believed to have been used in a scheme to fraudulently obtain Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits from several states.

He said agents believe that Keashia Latriese Davis, who lived in the apartment with at least four of her children, from elementary age to adults, sold the illegally obtained benefit cards to people in Little Rock for cash.

Porter said the search also turned up mail belonging to other residents of the complex, including an uncashed tax refund check whose rightful owner, it turned out, had been complaining to the government about a missing refund for months. He said another piece of mail found in the apartment was a check from a utility company made out to a former neighbor of Davis' when she previously lived on Chicot Road.

An indictment handed up June 8 in Little Rock charges Davis with submitting 17 false applications for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to the state of Utah between April 2015 and May 2016. It says she used Social Security numbers and dates of birth for people she knew, including her former cellmate at the Arkansas Department of Correction and her deceased relatives, as well as for people who never existed.

Porter testified at a detention hearing for Davis that the state of Utah's Department of Workforce Services contacted the USDA in April after discovering that a number of such cards that were issued in Utah in response to mostly online applications were being redeemed in Arkansas. The welfare benefits issued in each state are intended to be used in that state, Porter said.

He said the USDA found that in a year's time, Davis had submitted about 75 false applications, all using different identities, that led Utah authorities to issue fraudulent electronic benefit transfer cards worth about $137,000. The cards were mailed to a location in Utah and later forwarded to Davis' address in Little Rock, he said.

In addition to the testimony, U.S. Magistrate Judge Beth Deere listened to two of several telephone conversations between Davis and her eldest daughter that were recorded in December, when Davis was being held in the Pulaski County jail. In the conversations, she could be heard instructing her daughter to collect payments from various people so that she would have money to spend in jail and could post bail.

Davis was jailed after her parole on a state conviction was revoked for her failure to report to her parole officer. She was paroled from state prison on Jan. 31, 2014.

Davis' attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Nicole Lybrand, requested Monday's hearing in an effort to allow Davis to be released from federal custody pending her trial, which is tentatively set for July but is expected to be postponed.

Deere, however, sided with Assistant U.S. Attorney Jana Harris, who argued that the amount of material seized in Davis' case is "overwhelming," making her chances of conviction high, and pointed out that Davis' history is full of arrests and even a felony conviction for failing to appear in court. Harris also said Davis "has multiple associations with multiple states," and that the recorded conversations show that she continued to run her criminal enterprise from jail, indicating she isn't likely to stop if released.

Lybrand argued that Davis has been in the area for nine years and has family in town, including a child with special needs, both of which are factors that would make her unlikely to flee. Lybrand suggested releasing Davis on home detention with electronic monitoring.

Deere said that while defendants in fraud cases and other nonviolent cases are usually released until trial, there was too much of a risk of flight in Davis' case. Deere also said she couldn't think of a sufficient way to protect the public from the ongoing schemes that Davis is accused of committing.

Metro on 06/28/2016

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