Saturday, June 23, 2001

Former welfare
employee pleads
guilty to taking
$112,000 from

Her parents plead no contest
to charges of fraudulent claims

By Debra Barayuga

A former state Human Services employee who monitored welfare recipients to ensure they qualified for public assistance has pleaded guilty to stealing more than $112,000 from client accounts that had been closed.

Germaine K. Kam, 36, changed her plea yesterday to two counts of first-degree theft before Circuit Judge Marie Milks.

Her parents, Ernest A.F. Kam Jr., 61, a pastor, and Charlmagne L. Kam, 58, also pleaded no contest to one count of first-degree theft for fraudulently obtaining more than $59,000 in benefits they were not entitled to.

Because of her knowledge of the system, Germaine Kam was able to keep accounts open, increase the number of recipients and amount of benefits they qualified for but kept the money for herself, said Deputy Attorney General Rick Damerville.

She also created fictitious cases for people who did not exist and stole their benefits by withdrawing money from bank machines using electronic transfer benefits or electronic benefit transfer cards, he said.

She could have continued her deception for a longer period had a former client not checked on her account, Damerville said.

The woman who closed her account because she had found employment lost her job a few months later and returned to apply for benefits.

Kam apparently tried to stall by instructing her to find another job and later apply for unemployment. The woman was eventually given her electronic benefits transfer card, but when she tried to withdraw money, there was only a $13 balance on the account, Damerville said. When she called the bank, she was told the account had never been closed.

Kam's parents are accused of applying for and receiving public and child-care assistance from February 1997 to November 1999 that they were not entitled to, Damerville said. Although they reported their two grandchildren were living with them, they failed to disclose that their daughter was living in the same household and her income.

The Kams also did not disclose a $30,000 workers' compensation settlement received by Charlmagne Kam that would have made the couple ineligible for assistance.The Kams will be sentenced Aug. 21.

Germaine Kam could face a 10-year jail term and up to $25,000 in fines for each theft count. Her parents are subject to the same penalties, but because of their age, Ernest Kam's health problems and the fact that neither has a criminal record, the state could recommend probation.

The parents are also seeking to have their pleas deferred, allowing them to have their convictions erased if they comply with the court's conditions.

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