Sullivan fraud effort highlighted
MONTICELLO, NY — The Sullivan County Welfare Fraud Task Force held a news conference on November 16 at the government center to talk about efforts to battle welfare fraud in the county. Four recent welfare arrests were unveiled, and Joe Todora, commissioner of the Sullivan County Division of Family Services, unveiled a new phone number residents are urged to call if they become aware of welfare fraud. The number is 845-513-2392.
Underlining the fact that this efforts involves multiple county departments, several county officials participated in the news conference, including Legislator Nadia Raijsz, chair of the Health and Family Service Committee, County Manager Josh Potosek, Sheriff Mike Schiff and District Attorney Jim Farrell.
The task force has been operating for several months and according to a county press release: “25 arrests have taken place; 23 of these arrests were for program violations and fraud; 2 arrests were made of individuals for parole violations; more than $87,100 in fraud charges have been brought, and already more than 15% of that amount has been repaid; 5 arrests on child support warrants have taken place, seeking payment of more than $215,000 in back child support; over 70 open cases currently under investigation/review.”
Type of frauds
William Moon, deputy commissioner, gave a few examples of the types of welfare fraud that are currently taking place in this county and many other counties. He said there are individuals who may be swept up in the opioid crisis, and they have a benefit card that provides them with food stamps. He said the standard fraud is, “you trade in your benefits to someone for fifty cents on the dollar. Then [the beneficiary] gets cash, and someone else gets the food, and they spend the cash some other way. You see this happening in grocery stores, convenience marts, et cetera. We hope that when the public sees that going on they’ll let us know.” He said this is one of the most common forms of welfare fraud in upstate New York.
Moon said there are other forms of welfare fraud that he called “invisible violations,” one of which leads to the county being in arrears of some $30 million in child support payments. He said, “People who work off the books, is one of the more common situations that we run into in upstate … there’s a lot of employment that doesn’t always make into the labor department statistics. Not only do we have people sometimes on public assistance who have a job that we’re not aware of, but we have those who owe child support and support for their families who are collecting funds and not paying their bills.”
Another form of abuse is that some beneficiaries own resources that are not reported. Moon said, “We recently made an arrest and received an almost $10,000 repayment from an individual who probably had in excess of $75,000 worth of vehicles alone, in addition to some other resources that were hidden from our office.”
One somewhat surprising area of fraud involves Medicaid transportation, which moon called an epidemic. He said, “There are over 20,000 individuals who participate in the Medicaid program in Sullivan County. Most of them are eligible for Medicaid transportation to doctor visits, to the hospital, to a dentist’s office. However if they call up the system and make an appointment for personal reasons under a claim of going to a doctor’s office, that’s become an issue that our office is taking a look at, and we have several open cases right now.”
By the book
The former commissioner, Randy Parker, who left county employment in March 2015, was accused by some in county government by pursuing fraud to aggressively, and denying benefits to residents who were entitled to them.
Asked how the structure now is different to prevent this situation from occurring again, Todora said, “The way it’s structured now is that we’re doing it by the book … not that Mr. Parker wasn’t. But I can tell you that the front-end fraud detection for our unit, in a county our size, should be around $5 million, and that’s about where we are.”