North Miami Beach employee fired after being accused of stealing Publix gift cards

North Miami Beach police arrested a former city employee accused of stealing eight Publix gift cards intended for residents during a giveaway last year, the police department said.

Jennifer C. Hillmon was charged with one count of organized scheme to defraud and one count of grand theft. Hillmon was a public affairs assistant with North Miami Beach, according to a police report. The city did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hillmon is accused of using eight stolen Publix gift cards to purchase $1,137.82 in food and other items at several supermarkets in South Florida, police said. The last gift card distribution took place around November.

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North Miami Beach police began investigating the stolen Publix gift cards on May 2. The city had purchased 1,562 gift cards valued at $150 each and one gift card valued at $75 using funds from the American Rescue Plan, a financial relief package passed by Congress to help offset burdens caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the police report said.

Hillmon was seen on surveillance video using the gift cards between March 23 and May 2 at different Publix and Publix Liquor Stores, according to the police report. Hillmon was fired from her city job and transported to the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center for booking, according to a North Miami Beach police news release.

The police report says Hillmon lives in Tamarac, not North Miami Beach, and does not detail how she obtained the cards.

READ: In divided North Miami Beach, Publix gift card giveaway becomes another political fight

North Miami Beach Commissioner Jay Chernoff said he was surprised when he heard about Hillmon’s arrest because he had considered her a good employee. “I thought she was a rising star and would move up and be with us for a long time. She was so helpful.”

Publix gift card giveaways have been a contentious issue in the city since 2021, when the city commission first voted to distribute gift cards to residents. At that time, some commissioners criticized how the cards were distributed and claimed former Commissioner Paule Villard was using the giveaway as an opportunity to campaign for her reelection bid in 2022. Villard lost to Chernoff during a runoff race last November.

“The gift cards have been a point of contention since the election,” Chernoff said. “We ran on doing away with them and finding out what was at the bottom of it. They were distributed badly or poorly and everything. I thought it was put to bed, and then all of a sudden, boom.”

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