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Alaska Senate candidate charged with felony theft over food stamp benefits

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: August 14, 2018
  • Published August 14, 2018

A candidate for Alaska Senate is facing felony charges that she and her husband defrauded the state of six months' worth of federal food stamp benefits.

Rebecca "Bekah" Halat is running in the Republican primary against Chris Birch, a state House representative, for an open South Anchorage Senate seat. Halat is a former Mrs. Alaska who has been branded as an up-and-coming voice in the Republican Party. In her campaign, she's pitched herself as a successful businesswoman who would be tough on crime, cut the state budget and restore the Permanent Fund dividend.

In an Aug. 6 criminal complaint, prosecutors accused Halat and her husband, Jarek, of knowingly misleading the state about their finances when seeking food stamp benefits. Investigators reviewed bank records and concluded the couple failed to report multiple bank accounts and did not disclose Jarek Halat's employment as a Lyft driver, according to the Office of Special Prosecutions.

As a result, the couple was "well above" the income threshold limit for roughly $5,000 in food stamps they have received since January, according to the charges.

The Halats face one count each of second-degree theft, a Class C felony, and falsification of documents, a Class A misdemeanor. They are scheduled to make their first court appearance Aug. 24, a few days after next week's primary.

Halat's campaign activity — and an anonymous tipster — sparked the investigation, prosecutors say.

In an emailed statement Monday, Rebecca Halat said she and her family had had a difficult year. She said her husband was laid off from AT&T last year at the same time that she was struggling with health problems and a miscarriage.

She called the criminal charges "false allegations from those trying to steal the election."

"Boy, have I learned a lot in the last 74 days! 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," Halat wrote.

Her opponent, Chris Birch, said he had read the charges against Halat but that neither he nor anyone he knew had anything to do with the allegations.

"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 said in a phone interview Monday. "I think she needs to be held accountable, and her family, for their own actions."

Halat declined to comment beyond her initial statement, saying she would address the criminal charges "in the proper venue."

The 33-year-old mother of two has attracted attention from conservatives in the primary races. A recent front cover of The Eagle, a conservative alternative magazine, called her a "Republican rock star."

The charging documents indicate it was Halat's campaign activity that triggered the state's fraud investigation.

On June 20, an anonymous citizen contacted the fraud control unit in the state Division of Public Assistance to say they were concerned the Halats were committing welfare fraud, Charles Agerter, the assistant attorney general, wrote in the charges.

"The anonymous citizen became concerned when Rebecca solicited political support at the citizen's residence," Agerter wrote.

According to the charges, the Halats began receiving food stamp benefits in March 2017. Jarek Halat did the eligibility interview with the state, Agerter wrote in the charges. He said he lived with Rebecca Halat and their two minor children in Anchorage, and that they had one bank account, Agerter wrote.

Jarek Halat said he had just been laid off by AT&T and that he had applied for unemployment benefits but hadn't yet received them, the charges say. Rebecca Halat had no reportable income, according to the charges.

The Halats were supposed to let the state know if their monthly income exceeded about $2,700, according to the charges. The state warns public assistance recipients that false or misleading information, or a failure to report an income change, could lead to criminal prosecution.

In late January 2018, the Halats applied again for food stamp benefits. They said they owned a house worth $280,000 and paid $2,000 a month for mortgage. They also said they owned one bank account at Wells Fargo with a $1,000 balance, according to the charging document.

At that time, Rebecca Halat said she worked at the Business Boutique and made $20 an hour, and Jarek Halat said he was receiving unemployment benefits, the charges say. Jarek Halat also said he was no longer working for Uber and Lyft, the charges say, though it wasn't clear whether he had disclosed ride-sharing employment earlier.

An investigator assigned to the case, Dean Rogers, looked at Rebecca Halat's campaign website. Halat described herself as an experienced business owner, consultant and trainer for other businesses, and Rogers reviewed her business licenses, Agerter wrote in the charges.

Rogers also obtained bank records from Wells Fargo from December 2017 to June 2018. He found four separate bank accounts, according to the charges.

One account indicated that Jarek Halat actually was working as a Lyft driver when the family reapplied for food stamps in January, the charges say. Another account, owned by Rebecca Halat, had more than $4,700 in it; Rebecca Halat told investigators she wasn't aware of the account, according to the charges.

The couple also jointly owned an AlaskaUSA account with balances that totaled between $35,000 and $40,000 as of January, when the couple re-applied for food stamps, the charges say.

In May, Jarek Halat filed a change report form with the state Division of Public Assistance, saying he had started part-time construction work and that Rebecca Halat had been laid off due to a lack of work, according to the charges. He did not report ride-sharing income, the charges say.

In a July 24 interview, Rogers and another investigator asked the couple why they didn't report all their bank accounts to the state public assistance division, the charges say.

Jarek Halat said the couple's AlaskaUSA accounts were for their children's college savings and they didn't consider the AlaskaUSA account available for them to spend. Rebecca Halat said another account was for a business she owned several years ago and not for personal use, the charges say.

The investigators asked if they were able to withdraw from the accounts at any time, and both Jarek and Rebecca Halat said yes, the charges say. The Halats also both said the funds were available when they first applied for food stamps in March 2017.

At that point, the Halats asked how they could repay the food stamp benefits, the charges say.