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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Rachel Dolezal pleads not guilty to welfare fraud

This image released by Netflix shows Rachel Dolezal in a scene from the documentary “The Rachel Divide,” which was released earlier this year. (Netflix via AP)

Rachel Dolezal has pleaded not guilty to charges related to welfare fraud.

Dolezal, who legally changed her name to Nkechi Diallo in 2016, is accused of illegally receiving about $9,000 in food assistance and $100 in child care assistance in 2017, according to the Washington Department of Social and Health Services. If convicted, she would face a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and could be ordered to repay the money in restitution.

On May 30, her attorney Bevan Maxey filed a motion in court entering a formal “not guilty” plea.

An arraignment hearing was scheduled Wednesday morning but postponed to June 20 because Maxey was tied up in the murder trial of Cynthia Khaleel, who is accused of beating her 5-year-old nephew to death.

The hearing would have set a schedule for trial.

The charges of first-degree theft by welfare fraud, second-degree perjury and false verification for public assistance against Dolezal stem from a social services investigation that showed she made nearly $84,000 between August 2015, and September 2017, but despite this, only reported a monthly income of $300 a month, all while receiving public assistance.

Court records say she claimed to have been unemployed and unable to find work since resigning as president of the NAACP’s Spokane chapter in June 2015, when it was revealed that she was born to white parents. The story made international news, thrusting the 40-year-old into a spotlight that has since resulted in a book deal and a Netflix documentary titled “The Rachel Divide.”

Netflix released a statement to multiple media outlets in March noting that Dolezal wasn’t paid for the project.

In response to her book deal, a social services fraud investigator began looking into her income and learned she received an advance payment of $10,000 and $20,000 for the March 2017 memoir titled “In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World.” Another investigator, court records say, learned Dolezal had obtained a business license to promote the sale of her book, which included the sale of art, soaps and handmade dolls.

A court served a subpoena in September asking for self-employment records, which showed she had received unreported income. Those findings were forwarded and a criminal investigation was launched.

Court records say Dolezal was informed on multiple occasions that false income reporting would result in criminal charges, but those warnings went unheeded. In February, investigators noted there was enough evidence to show she had not reported her full income.

Investigators scheduled an interview with Dolezal on April 26, but it was ended before it could even begin.

Staff writer Ryan Collingwood contributed to this report.