A Hopewell woman was sentenced Monday to two years in federal prison for funneling nearly half a million dollars in state money intended for at-risk children in Hopewell into a fake company and, ultimately, into her own pocket and that of a co-defendant.
Jamillah Karriem pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and making a false tax return. She was the coordinator of the city’s Comprehensive Services Act, which meant she was supposed to connect children who were struggling in school or at home with services for counseling and mentoring, and she was to use state funds to pay for those services.
Instead, Karriem created a shell company called World of Possibilities, which was paid $480,875 between 2011 and 2015 by the city of Hopewell.
The city fired Karriem when it discovered that her company was fake and not performing any of the services for which it was being paid.
Karriem begged for mercy from the court in an emotional appeal in which she spoke about her teenage daughter, who she cares for on her own and who has mental health issues. Karriem could have faced a sentence up to 20 years in prison, but because she has no prior criminal record, federal guidelines called for a sentence between 33 and 41 months.
“This is my daughter’s senior year in high school,” Karriem told U.S. District Judge M. Hannah Lauck. “I cannot imagine her going through this on her own.”
Lauck briefly recessed the hearing to allow Karriem to collect herself after she broke down into sobs and cries of “my baby.”
“The nature of this offense is most troubling,” Lauck said once the hearing resumed, adding that the defendant elevated her own daughter above all other children in Hopewell. “It was lying on steroids.”
Reginald Barley, Karriem’s attorney, asked the judge to lower the sentence to just a year in prison, arguing the disparity between her punishment and that of her co-defendant, Keith B. Hayes. Hayes, who fathered Karriem’s child, received only probation for the scheme from which they both profited equally, Barley said.
“For one to get probation and the other to get [prison time] way up there defies the purpose of the guidelines, and the role of judge — I know you take your job seriously — to look at the individual,” Barley said.
Thomas A. Garnett, an assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case, asked for a sentence near the high end of the guidelines, saying the fraud went on for 3½ years.
“The victims are the children of Hopewell who didn’t get services because this defendant valued her income more,” Garnett said.
Lauck also ordered Karriem to three years of probation and to pay a special assessment of $200 and restitution of the money she took from the city and another $133,602 she owed the IRS.
She encouraged Karriem to “own” her culpability in order to move on. The judge allowed Karriem to delay reporting to federal authorities until July 30 so she could arrange for her daughter’s care while in prison.