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4/13/2007
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Social Security Administration Worker Charged In Identity Theft Scheme

A California woman is charged with conspiracy and fraud in connection with a scheme that racked up $2.5 million in credit card charges.

A former Social Security Administration employee surrendered to federal authorities Wednesday to face charges of illegally disclosing personal information she took off a government computer that was then used in an identity theft scheme that racked up $2.5 million in credit card charges.

Jennifer Batiste, 45, of Leimert Park, Calif., made her initial court appearance Wednesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. She was released on $5,000 bond.

Batiste is charged with conspiracy, accessing a protected computer to conduct fraud, and disclosure of a Social Security number. If she is convicted of the three counts in the indictment, Batiste faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.

The indictment alleges that Batiste conspired with her cohort Craig Harris and others by agreeing to access the Social Security Administration's computer system to run search queries for Harris.

Harris, a 50-year-old Los Angeles resident, pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy and unlawful possession of a means of identification. Harris, who faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, is scheduled to be sentenced on July 17.

The government contends that Harris would give Batiste some identifying piece of information about someone -- either a name or Social Security number -- and Batiste would then query the government system to pull up enough other identifying information to put the person's identity at risk.

According to a government report, Bastiste allegedly was paid $20 for every search query she ran on the government computer system to obtain information for Harris. The indictment goes on to allege that Harris and his co-conspirators used the information to make approximately $2.5 million worth of unauthorized charges to credit card accounts.

"The Social Security Administration, Office of the Inspector General, is committed to aggressively pursuing fraud perpetrated by SSA employees," said David F. Butler, Special Agent in Charge of the Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General. "The American public not only deserves, but demands, the highest standards of integrity from government employees that are paid with their tax dollars."

The cases against Batiste and Harris are part of an ongoing investigation by the Los Angeles Identity Theft Economic Crimes Task Force, which includes the United States Postal Inspection Service, the United States Secret Service, the Los Angeles Police Department, and the Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General.

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