‘Million Dollar Mark’ Targets Welfare Fraud in Orange County
GOSHEN, N.Y.—Orange County law enforcement officials have charged thirty suspects with defrauding the Department of Social Services of welfare benefits. The charges were announced on July 1 by District Attorney David Hoovler whose office conducted the office’s third enforcement called “Million Dollar Mark.”
“The over one million dollars in public benefits fraud that have been discovered during the course of these three enforcement actions demonstrate just how much this type of fraud costs taxpayers,” Hoovler said.
The perpetrators are charged with illegally obtaining over $324,000 in federal public assistance benefits administered through the department.
Those arrested are alleged to have fraudulently taken $324,793.85 in public assistance benefits in three programs: SNAP (food stamps), Temporary Assistance, and Medicaid.
The individuals to be prosecuted allegedly stole $63,908.90 in SNAP, or Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Payments. Others who were arrested fraudulently received $20,905.77 in Temporary Assistance distributed through debit cards. Investigators found that $239,979.18 in Medicaid payments were paid as the result of fraudulent statements made by individuals and companies.
Hitting the Mark
The “Million Dollar Mark” effort is the third since Hoovler took office. To date, 97 individuals have been charged with welfare fraud. The total dollar amount of the fraud involved in the cases is $1,073,676.33. Orange County has recovered approximately $123,930.92 from the individuals charged, or about 12 percent of benefits fraudulently received.
All county departments worked together to nail the perpetrators. The amount returned by some individuals when initially contacted by Social Services investigators was $148,390.50. These individuals avoided arrest and further legal action.
These efforts have brought a sharp increase in recovered funds. In the 17 months before the Million Dollar Mark’s first enforcement action, Social Services investigators had collected only $12,643.58. The DA’s actions saw a 1140 percent increase in the recovery of fraudulently obtained benefits. Hoovler indicated this latest sweep will not be the DA’s last. “I expect those collections to rise dramatically in the near future.”
Hoovler noted the difficulty of tracking down and prosecuting fraud in Medicaid. “Medicaid eligibility is determined solely by an applicant’s stated income without any consideration of an applicant’s assets.” He said an applicant could have a fat bank account but no income and could collect Medicaid benefits.
Hoovler said some business owners intentionally structure the draws of income they receive from their corporations to qualify for benefits. Mordechai Friedman, of Monroe, was the only shareholder in YMF and Associates, Inc. and was charged with fraudulently receiving $61,442.27 in Medicaid benefits by understating his income. YMF and Associates was also charged with assisting Friedman in underreporting his income. Friedman took a minimum draw from the successful company.
Legally, the county must pay Medicaid benefits to someone who claims the county as a primary residence. MD Islam, 77, of Monroe, was charged with allegedly obtaining $39,299.08 in Medicaid benefits by indicating Orange County as his primary residence, yet he was found to have spent 10 months out of each year in Bangladesh. Islam has been charged but has not been arrested since he has not yet been found.
SNAP provides monthly food assistance for more than 44 million low-income individuals nation-wide. “Fraud committed by both SNAP recipients and the retailers that redeem SNAP benefits is a critical concern,” according to the USDA’s recent report on fraud prevention.
Reyna Martinez and Angel Campos, who live together, failed to report that Campos was employed and receiving an income. They are charged with stealing $31,765.90 in Medicaid and SNAP benefits.
The USDA, which distributes the benefits, works with local law enforcement to limit fraud. Public Assistance Reporting Information System (PARIS) is a Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) computer system where the SSNs of public assistance recipients can be matched against various federal databases and those of participating states to prevent simultaneous participation in benefit programs among states.
New York’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance gives short-term help for those who cannot find a job, are unable to work, or a job does not support a decent living. The office lists potential fraudulent situations that affect temporary assistance: unreported earned or unearned income, hidden bank accounts or property, not reporting people who move in or out of a household, costs of rent unreported or falsified, giving false information about parental custody.
Robin and Izanami Galdino of Port Jervis are charged with stealing a total of $11,928.00 in welfare benefits–$2,911.00 in SNAP and $9,017.00 in temporary assistance benefits.
The Orange County Employment & Training Administration is part of the County’s workforce development system. The program assists individuals seeking employment. Because of the economic downturn, there have been very high numbers of long-term unemployed dislocated workers, according to the county’s local plan. Many apply for temporary assistance.
Social Services investigators reviewed files of public assistance benefit recipients suspected of fraud, interviewed recipients, and forwarded cases to the DA’s office for further investigation. The Orange County Sheriff’s department assisted the DA’s office with interviewing many of the recipients before arresting them.
The county publishes the names, charge, and photo of the alleged culprits. Hoovler said this serves as an effective deterrent to stop repeat offenses.
Hoovler has made vigorous prosecution of fraud an important part of his tenure. “To date, in my tenure we have done just that, fairly and responsibly for the taxpayers of Orange County.” That means all types of fraud—insurance, unemployment, workers’ compensation, and welfare.
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