Former employee indicted in theft of city funds

Former employee indicted in theft of city funds

By Chris Teale (Photo/Alexandria Sheriff’s Office)

A former employee of the Alexandria Fire Department was indicted Monday by a city grand jury, accused of stealing and laundering money from city government.

Monique Jackson Asante, 38, of Woodbridge, Va., was charged with money laundering July 11. She was an administrative assistant in the fire department, and is accused of facilitating the submission and payment of fraudulent invoices for training and supplies between January 2010 and January 2016.

City spokesman Craig Fifer said in a statement that the fire department received information on February 23, 2016 that Jackson Asante may have mishandled city funds. Her employment was terminated the following day. Fifer declined to say how much money is alleged to have been stolen.

The city manager’s office directed the Alexandria Police Department to conduct a criminal investigation, and directed the city’s office of internal audit to conduct an internal investigation. Fifer said Jackson Asante cooper- ated with both.

Police spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said the department’s criminal investigation section has a unit that specializes in investigating white collar crime such as money launder- ing, and that it involves plenty of digging through documents and following paper trails.

The city is seeking incarceration and full restitution if the stolen funds. If Jack- son Asante is found guilty, she will not be entitled to a public pension, per state law.

John Zwerling, a partner at the Zwerling/Citronberg, PLLC, a criminal defense law firm in Alexandria that defends against money laundering among other charges but is not involved in this case, said that cooperation could work in the accused’s favor.

“It shows acceptance of responsibility,” Zwerling said. “Usually it also shows remorse and sometimes just resignation to the fact that they’ve been caught.”

According to her public LinkedIn profile, Jackson Asante has worked as a city staffer since 1996, first as a company secretary at the city’s methadone clinic, then as a secretary and an executive secretary supporting the city’s office on women.

She joined the fire department in 2007 as a fire training administrative analyst. Since her firing in February, she has worked as a home health aide in Prince William County and as an executive administrative assistant at the Marriott International hotel company.

Jackson Asante was presented with the city’s Just Say Thanks award in October 2015. The award is given out monthly by the city manager’s office and the city human resources department to recognize employees that go above and beyond expectations with a $100 gift card.

Fifer said as a result of the internal investigation, the city is improving its financial controls, increasing audit frequency and strengthening approval processes. The Alexandria Fire Department also is providing additional ethics and fiscal management training to administrators, managers and officers.

The city also has engaged a third-party auditing firm to conduct a review of internal financial controls beyond the annual reviews normally conducted by internal and external auditors, while disciplinary action has been taken against other city employees who failed to provide appropriate oversight.

“Even though our independent annual audits have found our internal controls to be sufficient, this firm will help determine where our controls should be adjusted to minimize the risk of misconduct in the future,” Fifer said.

City Councilor Paul Smedberg and Vice Mayor Justin Wilson have sat on the city’s audit committee since it was established three years ago, with the group working to aid the city’s internal audit office in its annual study of city finances. Wilson said the auditing process is rigorous, especially when it comes to compliance with new standards handed down by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Generally Accepted Account- ing Principles.

Wilson said GAAP made changes last year to the way localities must account for the spending of federal grant money, while new rules emerged over the past several years governing how municipalities ac- count for pensions and health care benefits for current and past employees.

“We’ve been pretty aggressive about saying, ‘OK, this is coming, let’s get on board and address these standards and collect the information that’s necessary,’ and in some cases start setting aside money for different things that they require us to do,” Wilson said. “That way, when, say for example, the bond rating agencies say, ‘If you’re not compliant with this standard we’re going to dock you,’ we’re ahead of the game.”

In a statement, Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter said the investigation is ongoing, and that more people could be charged with participating in the scheme in the future. Porter declined to comment further on the case, citing the need to not interfere with the fairness of a future trial.

More details will come to light when the case goes to trial, and Zwerling said there are plenty of factors to take into account.

“Oftentimes, money laundering is over-charged in simple larceny cases or simple drug cases,” he said. “You take the money and put it in the bank in your own name, it’s really not money-laundering as most people think of it. But if you set up a dummy corporation to send the money to, and then they hire you to do ostensibly nothing and then pay you, that’s money laundering. How hard she was try- ing to disguise the source of the funds would be a factor.”