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Maryland woman pleads guilty to embezzling FEMA funding

A Maryland woman pleaded guilty Tuesday to embezzling more than $143,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, where she worked as a human resources analyst, according to the Maryland U.S. attorney's office.

Sheila Ann Howard, 56, of Capitol Heights in Prince George's County, began working for FEMA — which responds to disasters across the country such as the recent devastation from superstorm Sandy — as a disaster assistant in 1986, and later served as a staffing clerk and personal assistant, among other positions, prosecutors said.

In June 2008, she became a human resources analyst, which required her to process special payroll payments such as cash awards, bonuses and special leave that could not be processed through the agency's standard payroll system, prosecutors said.

Between December 2009 and March 2011, Howard used her position to process 28 fraudulent payment claims in the names of 18 former FEMA employees and one current employee, depositing the payments in four bank accounts she controlled, prosecutors said.

The former employees were not aware of the scheme or of Howard's use of their personal information, prosecutors said.

An investigation began after one of the employees was mailed a tax form indicating she had been paid more than $9,000 by FEMA in 2010 for leave compensation, even though she had left the agency in 2009.

Authorities looked into the payments and found they had been processed by Howard and deposited into a bank account on which she was the primary account holder, prosecutors said. The employee whose name the payments were made under was listed as a secondary account holder, but had no knowledge of the account, prosecutors said.

Authorities determined Howard embezzled a total of $143,414.39 through similar fraudulent payments.

She faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, prosecutors said, and is scheduled to be sentenced in February.

krector@baltsun.com

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