PATERSON, NJ – An employee of the Passaic County Board of Social Services took more than $17,000 in payments that clients made to the agency by having them submit blank money orders, Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia M. Valdes announced on Thursday.

Jecemia Echevarria, 40, of Paterson, was arrested as the result of “an extensive investigation into the misappropriation of State and Federal funds intended to aid needy families in Passaic County,’’ said a press release issued by the prosecutor.

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Members of the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office’s Public Integrity Unit, acting on information provided by the Board of Social Services, began an investigation into irregularities involving blank money orders Echevarria collected from clients, the press released said.

Echevarria, a social service technician, has been employed by the Board of Social Services since 2002. Her job entails administering state and federal funds in assisting low income families with rental housing, utilities payments, and relocation expenses, the press release said. When a client is eligible for Temporary Rental Assistance (TRA), the Board of Social Services generally pays 70 percent of the client’s rent with the client being responsible for the remaining 30 percent.

The prosecutor’s press release said the investigation revealed numerous instances in which Echevarria would direct the client to provide a money order to her in the amount representing the client’s 30 percent contribution, but with the payee line on the money order left blank. Echevarria would then convert the funds to her personal use and use Board of Social Service funds to cover the client’s 30% responsibility, according to the prosecutor.

Thus by using Board of Social Services funds to pay 100 percent of the required payments Echevarria was able to forestall the issuance of eviction notices from the landlords in question enabling the scheme to remain undetected, the press release said. In addition, chevarria engaged in other fraudulent activities, including but not limited to, submitting or causing to be submitted applications for additional benefits.

So far, the investigation has uncovered more than $17,000 in misappropriated funds and is continuing, the press release said. Echevarria was charged with one count of official misconduct, one count of theft by deception in excess of $500 but less than $75,000, and three counts of witness tampering.

The Prosecutor’s Office has recommended bail be set in the amount of $75,000, with no 10 percent option.