Jennifer D.C. Topacio, 46, walked out of the Superior Court of Guam on Tuesday hiding her face from cameras behind a defendant charged in a separate case.
Topacio, a nutrition assistant at the Department of Public Health and Social Services, earlier this year pleaded guilty to official misconduct as a misdemeanor. Her plea agreement does not include any jail time. It states she would receive a one-year suspended prison sentence with credit for time served.
Topacio, along with co-defendant Yolanda C. Digoman, 62, was indicted on June 5, 2018, on charges of unauthorized use of benefits as a third-degree felony; fraudulent use of public assistance as a third-degree felony; impersonation: identity theft as a third-degree felony; and official misconduct as a misdemeanor.
The two women remain on the job at the department but were moved to a different section.
“They are still employees because we have to give them due process until this case is completed,” said Public Health Director Linda DeNorcey. “We will be taking (disciplinary) action.”
Both women have been transferred from the Women, Infants and Children program to the nursing division.
DeNorcey said disciplinary action could include possible termination.
Misdeeds date back to 2015
The indictment states the defendants “knowingly used, transferred, acquired or possessed food stamp coupons or authorization to participate cards” in a manner that goes against the Federal Food Stamp Act of 1977. The value is stated in the indictment to be in excess of $100.
Further details of the allegations against the pair were not disclosed in the indictment.
The alleged fraud occurred in August 2015.
Expected to testify against co-defendant
Topacio appeared in court on Tuesday for sentencing.
However, the hearing was delayed, as Judge Maria Cenzon said her “cooperation agreement” includes Topacio providing testimony on behalf of the government against her co-defendant, Digoman.
Digoman is expected to appear in court for a change-of-plea hearing on Sept. 24. Details of her plea agreement have not been discussed or filed with the court.
Cenzon postponed Topacio’s sentencing until next month. It will be held on the same day the court is expected to accept Digoman’s plea.
The felony charges against Topacio would then be dismissed, according to the plea agreement. She would be placed on two years’ supervised probation.
The court also allowed her to perform her 200 hours of community service with her church.
‘I have kids’
Following Tuesday's hearing, Topacio hid her face behind Derick Evan Hills, a defendant who is charged in a separate case, as they walked from the courthouse to Adult Probation Services.
“I have kids,” Topacio said repeatedly to reporters as she made her way to probation.
“She’s someone that wanted to walk behind me and I had no problem with her holding onto my shoulders,” said Hills when asked why he shielded Topacio. “(For) someone that, I guess, is not used to the media and trying to answer questions, absolutely, I understand her situation.”
Both Topacio and Digoman are listed as nutrition assistants, holding federally funded positions with DPHSS in the government of Guam’s latest staffing pattern.