Nearly 10 months after she was escorted from Capitol Police headquarters, the civilian employee who headed the department’s Office of Diversity pleaded guilty to embezzling public money during her previous employment at Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Deborah K. Lewis, 48, of Temple Hills, Md., orchestrated a scheme involving gift cards that cost the federal government nearly $2,400 from April 2008 to April 2010, when she was employed as ICE’s chief diversity officer, according to court documents. Charges in the case, filed in March 2014, exposed Capitol Police to criticism for questionable hiring practices . In the wake of the guilty plea, the department would not disclose whether Lewis is still on paid administrative leave.
“The [Capitol Police] is currently conducting an administrative investigation,” spokesperson Lt. Kimberly Schneider said in an email.
While working for ICE, Lewis served as an approving officer for several government credit card holders in her office, responsible for authorizing purchases and ensuring statements were properly reconciled. She eventually learned that ICE’s Office of Procurement permitted the purchase of gift cards using the government credit cards, to be used for rewarding employees for good work.
Over the course of 20 months, beginning in April 2008, Lewis directed cardholders to purchase “batches of gift cards,” and have them shipped to the diversity office in D.C. Prosecutors claim Lewis used the gift cards, valued at $18,600, to reward employees and contractors who helped the office. She stored the cards in a locked drawer in her office, and controlled disbursement. Lewis eventually started using the gift cards purchased by her employees to make personal purchases in the amount of $1,799.35.
In March 2010, a senior executive at the Department of Homeland Security and former adviser to a mentoring program hosted by the diversity office sent an email requesting that Lewis provide gift cards to purchase a new refrigerator for the employee’s personal use. Following the email exchange, Lewis issued four gift cards totaling $600 to the employee, who used the funds to help purchase a refrigerator from Sears.
Lewis was hired by Capitol Police in July 2011 to serve as the department’s second-ever diversity officer, a position that reports directly to the chief. In that role, she was responsible for advising the department “on proactive strategies to prevent employment discrimination, ensure workforce diversity, address workplace conflict, and create an inclusive environment where all employees feel they are valued, respected, and free to develop and perform to their fullest potential,” the department said in a statement earlier this year.
Lewis was escorted from the building when embezzlement charges were filed in late March, and placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the case. For Capitol Police union leaders, the case raised questions about hiring practices for administrative positions that do not fall within the bounds of the collective bargaining unit.
When Lewis appeared in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in June, Judge Richard J. Leon rejected her misdemeanor plea. Leon called federal prosecutors’ claims she had embezzled more than $1,000 a crime that was “on its face a felony.”
In January, the office of U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald C. Machen Jr. filed a fresh plea agreement, charging Lewis with misdemeanor theft of public money, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison. Under the terms of the agreement, Lewis is obligated to pay restitution. She will be sentenced in April.
David Benowitz, the attorney representing Lewis, did not respond to questions from CQ Roll Call about the case.
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