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St. Lawrence County to see a return from welfare fraud investigations

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CANTON — Investigations into welfare fraud netted more than $20,000 for St. Lawrence County in June alone.

The St. Lawrence County Department of Social Services, in conjunction with the county’s District Attorney’s Office, has investigated numerous cases of reported fraud throughout the county resulting in civil agreements to return $20,194.

Social Services Commissioner Christopher R. Rediehs said fraudulent activity is something his department won’t put up with.

“We do not tolerate fraud. We investigate accusations of fraud to protect the integrity of our programs,” Mr. Rediehs said.

The civil agreements, DSS Senior Investigator Elizabeth A. Thomas said, are the results of investigations focused on crimes of welfare fraud, offering a false instrument for filing, unlawful use of a benefit card, forgery and other violations of the state penal law.

By handling the cases civilly, Mrs. Thomas said arrests are avoided and it keeps the cases out of court.

“They sign a disqualification consent agreement ,and they pay that money back,” Mrs. Thomas said. “Collecting the money can be done through a recoupments or repayment agreements. They can also have wages garnished if they don’t pay.”

The programs affected by the reported fraud include temporary assistance, day care, Medicaid, Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.

“For food stamps, it’s a federal program, so if you don’t pay for a certain time on your account, they will collect on federal income tax returns,” Mrs. Thomas said.

Investigations are ongoing and arrests are pending, and Mrs. Thomas said the investigations can range from months to years.

“It’s leg work, phone contacts, a lot of interviewing and we have to build a case and that sometimes takes time before we take it to the District Attorney’s Office,” she said.

The public is encouraged to report any suspected welfare fraud activity by calling social services at (315) 379-2145 or by filing a complaint at www.otda.nygov/welfare fraud.

Reporters may also remain anonymous.

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