Anchorage Republican senate candidate Bekah Halat has been charged with felony welfare fraud, according to a report by KTVA.
Halat and her husband, Jarek Halat, were charged last week with one count of felony theft for allegedly collecting more than $10,000 in food stamps that they shouldn’t have qualified for. They also face one misdemeanor charge for misleading a public servant.
Halat is running in the Republican primary against Rep. Chris Birch for the south Anchorage Senate seat vacated by Sen. Kevin Meyer.
According to the criminal charges obtained by KTVA, the couple began collecting food stamps in March 2017 after Jarek Halat was laid off from his job at AT&T a few months before. In their application, Bekah Halat didn’t report any income and they qualified for $622 per month in food stamps for six months. They were also told by the state that they had to report to the Department of Public Assistance if their monthly income ever crossed $2,730.
Before the end of the six month window, the couple’s benefits were extended through February of 2018, according to the charges. They applied for and received another six-month extension in January 2018. On that application, they only reported one bank account with a balance of $1,000. Bekah Halat reported income from a job at Business Boutique, but the countable income in the eyes of the state was just $399.79 (the couple has a $2,000 monthly mortgage on a $280,000 house).
It was ultimately Bekah Halat’s campaigning that prompted an anonymous tip on June 20, 2018 to the state, which opened the investigation into the couple and their banking. The criminal charges has this to say about the tipster: “The anonymous citizen became concerned when Rebecca solicited political support at the citizen’s residence.”
The state investigators went through the couple’s banking records, finding multiple accounts they hadn’t reported on the welfare application as well as multiple deposits from Lyft, Amazon, PayPal, Uber and unemployment benefits totaling in the thousands during the months that Jerak Halat said he had no income.
The couple was interviewed by investigators on July 24, 2018, about a month after the anonymous tipster helped launch the investigation. After laying the groundwork of the interview, they were confronted with the existence of the Wells Fargo account that didn’t align with the welfare application. The investigators specifically asked about the income from Lyft because Jerak Halat said he wasn’t employed at the time.
“There was a long, noticeable pause since Rebecca and Jarek did not answer the question,” the criminal charges say of their response.
With a little bit of prodding, according to the complaint, “Jarek responded, ‘I guess at the time I was working for Lyft too as a driver.'” He admitted that he did not report his income from Lyft on his application. When asked if she knew he was working at the time, Bekah Halat said she was aware, but the charges note that she went on to say “that she was unaware of the Wells Fargo checking account since she does not ‘really deal with’ the family’s finances.'”
The prosecutors then went on to quiz the couple about the other bank accounts that they hadn’t reported. Bekah Halat told them she thought one with a balance of $4,734 had been closed due to a lack of activity. Another $4,500 account for Bekah’s Dance Expressions was explained away as a business account, though Bekah Halat admitted that she could have walked in and withdrawn the money at any time.
When investigators asked if there were any other accounts (there were), this was their response: “Rebecca mumbled something that could not be understood and Jarek did not respond.”
That’s when investigators brought up an AlaskaUSA account with between $35,000 and $40,000 in it. Jarek Halat explained that away as a account for their children’s college savings, but acknowledged that nothing would have prevented them from going in and withdrawing the funds at any time.
It’s then that the couple’s defense seemed to fall apart.
“After that, Rebecca admitted they were not truthful on their January 18, 2018 ERF (eligibility review form),” according to the criminal complaint. “After this exchange, Jarek and Rebecca began to ask how they could repay the food stamps benefits.”
But it didn’t end there.
Jarek Halat tried one final line with the investigators, according to the criminal complaint, by stating first that his expenses for driving Lyft exceeded his income. Investigators responded by asking about the January 2018 eligibility application that said he was unemployed at the time, and Jarek Halat maintained that he wasn’t. But when confronted with payments that showed weekly bank deposits from Lyft through May 2017, Jarek Halat responded “it looks that way.” He ultimately admitted that he was not honest on the application.
The criminal charge against the couple closes, by charging that “Rebecca and Jerak were well above (the income limit) when they applied for food stamps on January 28, 2018. In fact, Rebecca and Jarek were well-above the food stamps resource limit during the entire time period they received food stamps from January 2018 through August 2018. In addition, Rebecca and Jarek may have been over resource for food stamps from March 2017 through December 2018 since they admitted their bank accounts were opened.”
The investigators only obtained banking documents from the December 2017 through June 2018 so they can’t say definitively about the couple’s activity prior to that date.
Halat, who’s running in the Republican primary against Rep. Chris Birch for the south Anchorage Senate seat vacated by Sen. Kevin Meyer, has gone on the defensive in a statement to the Anchorage Daily News, where she claimed the criminal charges (which say she admitted to being dishonest and asked to repay the food stamps) were “false allegations from those trying to steal the election.”
“Boy, have I learned a lot in the last 74 days!” she said in a statement, as was reported by the ADN. “People have learned a lot about me, but there’s a lot more they have to learn if they think I’m going to just curl up in a ball and let someone else represent me and my district through attacking my family.”
Birch told the ADN he had read the charges, but said he didn’t know anything about how they reached the state.
“It’s unfortunate that she’s trying to deflect her own, what I would characterize as shortcomings, and try to redirect that at somebody else,” Birch told the ADN. “I think she needs to be held accountable, and her family, for their own actions.”
The primary election is Tuesday, Aug. 21.
Halat is due in court to be arraigned on Aug. 24.