FRONT ROYAL — A town woman accused of welfare fraud avoided prison time by entering a plea deal Monday.

Warren County Circuit Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr. found Jacqueline Elaine Carter guilty in Warren County Circuit Court of grand larceny and false swearing as to a material matter while under oath, or perjury. Athey sentenced Carter to three years in prison for each felony count and suspended both terms. Athey ordered Carter to complete three years of probation.

Carter pleaded guilty under Alford v. North Carolina by which the defendant maintains her innocence but agrees the prosecution has sufficient evidence and she does not want to risk being found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. An agreement reached between Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Madden and Carter’s lawyer, Philip S. Griffin II, called for the defendant to enter the “Alford plea” to the two counts. In exchange, Madden agreed to ask the court to dismiss Carter’s remaining four counts of fraudulently receiving public assistance.

Authorities had accused Carter of fraudulently receiving public assistance between Sept. 1, 2013 and Feb. 28, 2017 by making false statements on applications for such benefits. Madden provided a proffer of the evidence the prosecutor intended to present had the case gone to trial. Carter failed to mention in her application for benefits the incomes of other people with whom she lived at the time she received assistance, Madden said. The Department of Social Services uses such income data to determine a person’s eligibility for benefits.

Carter collected $2,962 in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, formerly known as food stamps. Carter paid that entire amount at her court appearance Monday.

The punishment of probation with a suspended sentence falls well below the guidelines that recommend Carter serve between one year and one month and two years and two months of incarceration. Carter continues to undergo treatment for cancer, the cost of which the state would have to cover if she was incarcerated, Madden said. Treatment could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in any facility in which Carter would be incarcerated. The sentencing guidelines take into account Carter’s malicious wounding conviction, but that occurred in Goochland County 26 years ago, Madden added.

Athey accepted the plea deal and punishment as included in the agreement. The judge acknowledged that the sentence falls well below the guidelines but noted the prosecutor’s reasons for suspending the term — Carter’s illness and the cost of the treatment.

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