To view original article click here
The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA)
January 27, 1994
Author: JON FRANK, STAFF WRITER
Tilara J. Chappell had an assortment of excuses for why she stole money from the bank accounts of struggling clients she was supposed to be helping as a Social Services case worker.
She was heavily medicated on Prozac. She had a crushing case load at Newport News Social Services. She had recently given birth to her second child, was suffering from postpartum depression, and needed more cash for her family.
That last excuse is the one that the former Smithfield resident gave the Newport News commonwealth’s attorney’s office, which prosecuted her on two counts each of forgery and uttering after her arrest in July.
“The defendant said she did this because she had just had a baby and needed the money,” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Faye Lucas told the court Wednesday.
Moments before, the 31-year-old Chappell had pleaded guilty to all four counts and thought she would receive a 12-year, suspended sentence as part of a plea agreement.
But at the last minute, Circuit Court Judge Robert P. Frank refused to accept the agreement when he learned that Chappell had a prior misdemeanor conviction for passing a bad check. Frank ordered a pre-sentencing report and set another hearing for March 4.
“He just wants to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” said Chappell’s lawyer, Kevin Diamonstein of Newport News. “She was suffering a serious depression.”
According to Lucas, Chappell admitted falsifying at least three bank identification cards by using names and bank account numbers of people she encountered as an eligibility worker.
Chappell had access to the information through application forms for food stamps, Medicaid and other social programs.
Lucas told the court that Chappell put her own photograph on the identification cards and then tried to cash checks at banks in Newport News. On July 19 an alert drive-in teller at a Commerce Bank on Warwick Avenue recognized that Chappell was trying to withdraw money from the account of a customer the teller knew personally.
The teller kept the identification card and check that Chappell was trying to pass and asked her to come into the bank. Chappell drove away, but the teller got her license plate number and called police.
Chappell was arrested at work by Newport News police three days later.
Before her hearing, Chappell said in an interview that she was overwhelmed last summer, having just given birth to her second child and trying to cope with a pressure-filled job.
“When I came back from my maternity leave, I had a case load with 611 clients,” Chappell said. “I could not handle the stress anymore.”
When arrested, Chappell had two other phony identification cards in her purse. She admitted she used one to cash a $200 check from the account of a Newport News resident whose husband is disabled.
“I did not intend to hurt these people in any way,” Chappell said. “I just wanted to stop everything. I could not stand having that high a case load. I was under a great deal of stress.”
Caption: Photo Tilara J. Chappell
Record Number: 9401270117
Copyright (c) 1994 The Virginian-Pilot