November 20, 2013 —
With dozens of staff of the Department of Family Services (DFS) attending, legislator Cindy Gieger held a press conference outside of the Travis Building in Liberty to mark the arrests of two members of the DFS team. Since the formation of the DFS Fraud Investigative Unit earlier this year, dozens of cases of fraud and abuse have been uncovered, but this is the first time an investigation has resulted in the arrest of individuals within the department.
Those arrested were named in a press release from the New York State Police at Liberty issued on November 15. They are Stephen Mackey, age 48, of Hudson, Darlene Conklin, age 50, and George Conklin Jr., age 30, both of Swan Lake.
State police and the Fraud Unit “determined that false paperwork related to the application for housing, food stamps and HEAP had been submitted to Sullivan County between 2011 and 2013 by all three subjects.”
The release said that both Conklins are employed as examiners by DFS. Darlene was charged with forgery, filing a false instrument, welfare fraud and official misconduct. George was charged with filing a false instrument, possession of a forged document and official misconduct. Mackey was charged with grand larceny, filing a false instrument and welfare fraud. The investigation is ongoing and more charges are expected.
At the press conference, Gieger praised the work of DFS Commissioner Randy Parker and investigator Gerald Dietz, and said the county is on the right road in terms of correcting the social services picture.
But she added, “Years of a lack of oversight has lead to streams of Medicaid funding moving through hundreds of Medicaid shelters, many of which are unverified, amounting to millions of tax dollars, much of it sent outside this county to addresses elsewhere. Make no mistake, many Medicaid venders in Sullivan County are accountable and are providing a necessary service to our most vulnerable. The concern lies in the number of people coming to Sullivan County as a destination for benefits from numerous destinations outside Sullivan County who provide a county address reflecting numerous unverified shelters.”
Gieger, who is the chair of the county’s Health and Family Services Committee, proposed a series of reforms aimed toward preventing the kind of abuse that has existed. The reforms include reinstating the position of an employee who would report to the commissioner on legal issues. The reforms would include more verification and oversight of providers and the reform of whistleblower procedures to ensure that complaints from employees are taken seriously and acted upon quickly.
Legislator Cora Edwards said Sullivan County is in a transition period. She said, “We’re transitioning from being a benefits destination to being a resort destination, as it should be. And we only have a short amount of time to make this transition and to be able to train people for good paying jobs and a diversified economy.”
Legislators Kitty Vetter and Gene Benson also lent their support to the effort to bring reforms to DFS. Gieger said the reforms also had the support of Legislator Alan Sorensen. With the apparent support from at least five of the nine legislators, Gieger’s reforms have a good chance of being adopted.