GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A Kentwood woman accused of lying about her criminal background to become a U.S. citizen is facing a federal charge that could put her in prison for 10 years.

Rebecca Kareem Ata, 37, also faces removal from the U.S. for lying about her lengthy involvement in welfare fraud, court records show. Ata became a naturalized citizen in 2018 “when she was not entitled,’’ according to a federal indictment.

Ata collected nearly $31,000 in benefits that she was not entitled to, court records show. The fraud spanned nearly three years.

The federal indictment in Grand Rapids charges Ata with unlawful procurement of naturalization, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Other penalties include denaturalization, removal, denial of citizenship and denial of admission to the U.S. in the future.

Naturalization is the process by which a non-U.S. citizen voluntarily becomes a U.S. citizen. Eligibility requirements include being a person of good moral character, according to the website usa.gov.

Ata appeared before a federal magistrate on Tuesday, June 25; the proceedings were interpreted in the Arabic language. She was released on a $10,000 unsecured bond. A condition of bond requires Ata to surrender any passport in her possession. 

During her application to become a naturalized citizen, Ata, who is also known as Farah Kareem Ata, was required to answer truthfully questions about her criminal activity.

“When asked if she had knowingly committed any crime or offense for which she had not been arrested, Ata twice answered ‘no,’’’ according to the indictment. “In fact, she knew she had been committing welfare fraud since December 1, 2015 and did not cease doing so until September 30, 2018.’’

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services “relied upon this false information, approved defendant’s naturalization application and allowed her to become a citizen, when she otherwise would not have been,’’ according to the indictment.

The oath ceremony took place March 21, 2018 in Grand Rapids. About eight months later, she was arraigned in Grand Rapids District Court for welfare fraud over $500 and welfare fraud - failure to inform.

Both felonies are punishable by up to four years in prison. Ata pleaded guilty to welfare fraud over $500 and the other charge was dismissed. The Kent County Prosecutor’s Office recommended no jail time so long as a $10,000 earnest payment was made before sentencing.

A Kent County judge in late February placed Ata on probation for five years and ordered that she pay nearly $31,000 in restitution. About $18,000 of that was for state food benefits and the remainder was for medical expenses, court records show.

Ata was also ordered to complete 250 hours of community service. 

Ata’s next appearance in federal court is scheduled for July 1.

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