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FEMA employee pleads guilty to embezzlement

An employee in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) pleaded guilty to embezzling $143,000 from the agency between 2009 and 2011 using the agency’s Special Payroll Processing System.

Sheila Ann Howard’s guilty plea was announced on Nov. 20 by U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein and special agent in charge Michael Dawson of the Department of Homeland Security - Office of Inspector General (DHS-IG), Washington Field Office.

According to the plea agreement, now 56-year-old Sheila Howard began working at FEMA in 1986 and beginning in June 2008 was employed as a human resources specialist. As part of her responsibilities, Howard, who lives in Capitol Heights, MD, processed payments through FEMA’s Special Payroll Processing System, which handles payments that can’t be processed through the agency’s normal payroll system. The system handles payments like cash awards and special bonuses, compensatory time payments and restored annual leave, according to the statement by DHS IG.

Howard admitted in her plea that between December, 2009 and March, 2011, she processed 28 fake payments, totaling $143,414.39, in the names of 18 former FEMA employees, and one current FEMA employee. The payments were purportedly for compensatory time, restored annual leave, or cash awards and special bonuses. Each of these payments was deposited into one of four bank accounts associated with Howard. The other FEMA employees were not aware of Howard’s misuse of their names and other personal identification information, however.

Howard faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 at a sentencing hearing set for February 1, 2013.