ROCKLAND — A former Maine Department of Health and Human Services worker was sentenced Thursday to nine months in jail after admitting to stealing nearly $50,000 in benefits over nearly a five-year period.

Ashley S. Carleton, 29, of Rockport was sentenced by Justice Andrew Horton for felony theft and aggravated forgery. The judge imposed a sentence of three years in jail with all but nine months suspended and three years probation. He also ordered Carleton to repay $7,500 during her period of probation.

Carleton worked as an office assistant for DHHS in Rockland. While employed there, she received MaineCare benefits, food stamps and heating assistance funds by submitting false information about her income to the state.

Assistant Attorney General Paul Rucha argued for the nine months in jail, saying Carleton violated the trust of the state and that each incident of abuse hurts the program.

The prosecutor said he could have sought more jail time, which would have transferred Carleton from county jail into the state corrections department but that her lack of any criminal record and because she is a single mother to a 9-year-old daughter played a role in agreeing to the plea agreement of nine months.

Defense attorney Eric “Rick” Morse asked that Carleton serve no more than three months in jail.

He said Carleton had taken responsibility by pleading guilty to the offenses. He also presented evidence in terms of witnesses and police reports to show that his client had been the subject of domestic violence by her former boyfriend and that he allegedly pressured her to receive the extra income from the state benefits.

“People in hopeless situations take extreme measures,” Morse said.

The boyfriend was working as a lobsterman and living in the household for much of the nearly five years that she was receiving benefits.

After they broke up, he applied for MaineCare benefits and that is when an investigation began and investigators found that he had been living with her and depositing his checks into her account.

Rucha disputed the defense claim that she took responsibility as soon as she could, saying she initially denied doing anything wrong when she was confronted by DHHS investigators.

Justice Horton ordered partial restitution but said it was not realistic to expect Carleton would be able repay the full amount. She lost her job at DHHS as well as a hostess job at a local restaurant. The home she bought is in foreclosure, her attorney said.

The judge pointed out that she was fortunate to have a supportive family in court. Carleton’s mother and grandmother spoke on her behalf.

Carleton was one of two DHHS employees based in the Rockland office charged with theft.

One of Carleton’s supervisors, Tanya Bormet, 41, of Northport, was indicted last year on felony theft and unsworn falsification charges. The indictment alleges Bormet received between $1,000 and $10,000 in food stamps by falsely claiming two stepdaughters were members of her family and that her husband did not work.

She has pleaded not guilty and her case remains pending.


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