Police and prosecutors: Cheating welfare is 'too easy'

Posted at: 11/21/2012 5:07 PM
Updated at: 11/21/2012 7:54 PM
By: Mark Mulholland

QUEENSBURY - It's happening every day, all around us. People are stealing from you. And you probably don't even know it.

They aren't ripping off your car, or your other possessions, but indirectly, they're taking money right out of your pocket.

And they rarely get caught.

"It's way too easy," said Bud York, Warren County Sheriff.

"It is very easy," agreed Kate Hogan, Warren County District Attorney.

"It" is welfare or public assistance fraud. According to law enforcement it's been spiraling out of control and it's costing you money. A lot of it.

The amount counties spend each year on social services is staggering. In Warren County, the annual budget is roughly 150-million dollars. 44 percent of that, or more than $65 million pays for public assistance programs like welfare and food stamps.

And police say, a big chunk of that goes to people who aren't eligible.

Like the operator of a Queensbury who police say collected nearly $20-thousand in public assistance, including food stamps to supply his guests with free continental breakfast.

And to make matters worse, police say county taxpayers shelled out almost 300-thousand dollars to the same hotel to put homeless people up there.

NewsChannel 13 tried to reach him at the hotel, but a woman at the front desk said he wasn't available and promised to have him call us. We're still waiting.

The list of offenders is long. There's an Elvis impersonator police say was a hound dog---collecting more than $50,000 he wasn't entitled to.

Prosecutors say a Lake George man who owned two gas stations and several other pieces of real estate, fraudulently collected 65-thousand in Medicaid benefits because he never told Social Services about all the properties he owned.

When we tried to talk to him, he wasn't around either.

The district attorney tells the story of the drug dealer who came to Warren County from Schenectady, claiming to be homeless, so he was put up in a hotel at taxpayer expense and sold drugs.

"There's no way in God's green earth that taxpayers should be paying to put up drug dealers," said Hogan. "They get clean sheets, they get HBO. They get everything you and I have to pay for."

The D.A. says it's too easy to cheat the system to get public assistance. She says all you have to do is report that your income is below a certain threshold and you don't even have to list your assets."

The D.A. and the sheriff both say they're in favor of helping people who need it, but they'd had enough of the fraud. So they got the county board of supervisors to agree to fund an investigator, Kevin Conine, whose sole job is to find welfare frauds.

And it's working.

In the two-plus years they've been investigating, they've found almost three-quarters of a million dollars in fraud.

"When you put resources into oversight and prosecution, you can make a substantial difference," Hogan said.

"I firmly believe that if every county did what we're doing here in Warren County, you would curtail the welfare fraud immensely," said Sheriff York.

York says his part-time investigator works in tandem with an investigator for the county Department of Social Services. The sheriff says if his office employed two full-time investigators it would be difficult to keep up with all of the fraud.