Legislator pleads guilty to misdemeanor in food stamp case

Posted at 2:41 PM, Oct 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-26 01:54:35-04
State Rep. Cecilia Velasquez pleaded guilty Tuesday to a misdemeanor charge of unlawful use of food stamps but faces no jail time when she is sentenced in December.
The 42-year-old Litchfield Park Democrat was indicted in June by a state grand jury on felony counts of fraud, theft and unlawful use of food stamps, but she later reached a plea agreement with state prosecutors that dropped the felony charges. 
The indictment accused Velasquez of fraudulently obtaining $1,726 in food stamp benefits between Nov. 1, 2013 and Jan. 31, 2015. 
The plea deal calls for supervised probation and 100 hours of community service, plus a possible fine. She already repaid the money to the Department of Economic Security, said her attorney, Roy Herrera.
The DES inspector general launched an investigation in December 2014 after receiving a tip to a fraud hotline. Officials said when they announced the indictment that Velasquez falsely claimed she had two dependents, gave a false address and allowed two other people to use her food stamp benefit card.
Herrera said there only one dependent at issue, a daughter who Hernandez falsely claimed still lived with her. He declined to say whether he believed prosecutors overreached when they filed three felony charges but ultimately agreed to just a single misdemeanor.
"The question I would have is really more about the amount of resources that went into the investigation over a case that was essentially over $1,700 or so," Herrera said. "But at the same time, Ms. Velasquez did accept the plea and believes that this is the appropriate outcome for the case. "
Velasquez is serving her first term in the Arizona House. That term ends in January, and she dropped her re-election bid after being indicted.