COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — An ousted Ohio Department of Job and Family Services employee has been accused of illegally dishing out $800,000 in pandemic work benefits to ineligible claimants — including neighbors, family members and people behind bars — the Ohio Inspector General’s Office announced on Tuesday.
An Inspector General investigation into Donesha Shepard, a former intermittent customer service representative at the agency, reported that she unlawfully disbursed $799,986 in pandemic unemployment assistance funds to people who didn’t qualify.
In exchange for a fee, Shepard agreed to remove a “fraud hold” on her beneficiaries’ accounts, allowing her to approve the payments for delivery — a bribery scheme she frequently advertised on social media platforms, according to the Inspector General’s report. Shepard used a fake Facebook account called “Bodacious Booder,” and posted in the group “The Girls’ Room 2022 Reloaded” with offers to get denied benefits claims pushed through.
Facebook Messenger conversations between Shepard’s “Booder” account and multiple claimants that investigators obtained through a search warrant illustrate how the suspect would alter the benefits claim and also profit off of the service:
Aside from the claimants Shepard solicited on social media, investigators said they were able to draw connections between her and other PUA fund claimants. The mother of one claimant, who Shepard had gotten an illegitimate $14,037 payment, later took a trip to Las Vegas at the same time as the former ODJFS worker. The Inspector General’s Office found social media posts implying they were visiting and celebrating their birthdays together. The claimant’s mother spent $1,648.14 from their PUA fund account on the trip and associated purchases.
Of the 41 claims that Shepard erroneously fulfilled, 37 involved Cincinnati residents who lived close to Shepard’s home. Four claims involved incarcerated individuals, and other payments were delivered to Shepard’s family members. The Inspector General’s report broke down how money flowed for 12 different claimants that Shepard worked with.
|Ineligible PUA Claimants||Total $ Amount of PUA Funds Issued to Claimants||PUA $ Amounts Improperly Released to Claimants by Shepard|
Shepard worked for the agency from May 24, 2021, until she was terminated on Aug. 6, 2021, the Inspector General’s Office said. On Feb. 8, a Hamilton County grand jury indicted Shepard on counts of theft, tampering with records, telecommunication fraud and bribery. Hamilton County Common Pleas Court records showed Shepard had an arraignment on Feb. 24 and had retained an attorney, but did not show a future court date.
A separate Inspector General report accused another subcontractor, Deanna Rooney, of improperly accessing and altering three claimants’ submissions to get them $37,646 in PUA funds. It referred the report to the Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney and the Ohio Auditor of State, but Franklin County courts did not have any records of pending cases against Rooney.
The Inspector General’s Office said it had also investigated two other unnamed workers, but did not provide reports or outcomes for those cases.