09/07/2011 05:24 pm ET Updated Nov 07, 2011

Welfare Case Worker Walter Payton Admits Extorting Recipients By Threatening To Terminate Benefits

A New Jersey welfare case worker has pleaded guilty to attempting to extort welfare recipients by threatening to terminate their benefits, according to U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman.

Walter Payton, 54, of Bayonne, N.J., appeared before U.S. District Judge Esther Salas in Newark federal court Tuesday and pleaded guilty to "attempted extortion induced by wrongful use of fear of economic harm and under color of official right."

Payton was employed as a welfare case worker by the Hudson County Department of Family Services, Division of Welfare and Workforce Development for approximately nine years. Payton’s duties included processing applications for food stamps, Medicaid, and cash assistance.

In August 2010, an individual identified only in court documents as "the Victim," began receiving welfare benefits of $280 per month in monetary payments and $330 per month in food stamps. The following month, Payton demanded payment of $200 from the Victim and said that if the Victim failed to pay, he would terminate the Victim’s benefits, according to court documents.

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On September 27, 2010, Payton met the Victim near the Hudson County Department of Family Services office building where he accepted payment of $200 from the Victim. After accepting the money, Payton indicated there would be no need for additional payments, the court documents state.

According to Fishman, Payton has also admitted that he demanded similar extortion payments from four other Hudson County welfare recipients while working as a Hudson County welfare case worker.

Payton faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced on December 19.

County spokesman Jim Kennelly told The Jersey Journal that a review hearing will be held in the next two weeks, after which Payton will likely be terminated.

"His disgraceful, criminal acts were carried out against our most vulnerable residents, poor mothers with children," Kennelly told the Journal. "He deserves the fullest punishment available under law."