By Shaddi Abusaid, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
(CNT) City News And Talk #atlanta-ga
She was serving 14 years in prison for her role in an $8 million food stamp scheme. Now the former Atlanta Public Schools teacher is a free woman, thanks to President Donald Trump.
Rashella Reed, one of 16 people convicted in 2013 after conspiring to launder millions of dollars from taxpayer-funded food stamp and WIC programs, had her sentence commuted Wednesday.
According to Reed’s indictment, the Riverdale woman ran a Decatur store called “The Baby Spot,” where welfare recipients illegally exchanged their government benefits for cash. The shop was one of 13 “pretend” grocery stores set up across Georgia, investigators said.
Those who ran the scheme planned to expand into Alabama and Tennessee when the operation was dismantled by federal agents.
Investigators said recipients of food stamps and WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) were paid as little as 10% of what their benefits were worth while Reed and others pocketed the rest. The former teacher was among three defendants convicted at trial, and 13 others entered guilty pleas in what authorities called the largest prosecution of its kind in Georgia.
In addition to her 14-year prison sentence for wire fraud and money laundering, Reed was ordered to pay nearly $8.3 million in restitution.
Following her conviction, Reed’s attorney Donald Johnstono told The Associated Press that Reed believed she was participating in a legitimate investment opportunity.
He also said her sentencing was harsh considering two women who he said masterminded the scheme received sentences of less than five years in exchange for their guilty pleas and willingness to cooperate with prosecutors.
While behind bars, Reed used her teaching background to tutor inmates and helped facilitate children’s programs inside the prison, White House officials said in a news release explaining the president’s decision to free her.
“Ms. Reed is a model inmate, and many attest to her innate ability to encourage and uplift others despite her circumstances,” the statement read. “Ms. Reed accepts full responsibility for her actions and seeks to continue to make a difference in the lives of others.”
Reed, who served more than six years in prison, was one of five inmates across the U.S. to have their sentences commuted by Trump, the White House said Wednesday. She was released on home confinement, where she has “strong community and family support.”
According to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, which licenses teachers, APS hired Reed as a gifted teacher in 2005. The Troy State University graduate started at the former Kennedy Middle School and worked at the now-closed Connally Elementary School at the time of her resignation in 2013, records show.