Sheriff's Corner: Welfare fraud and fraud prevention
We have had recent questions about welfare fraud and fraud prevention within Cass County. The sheriff’s office has always assisted Human, Health and Veteran Services in fraud investigations. We have been recently asked by Human, Health and Veteran Services to take over fraud prevention and fraud investigations for entire Cass County.
State law requires that counties have some type of fraud prevention in place and funding is available from the state for this purpose. Fraud prevention is a cost neutral program. There is no cost to taxpayers, as enough money is recovered to pay for the program. There are approved parameters in place to stay cost neutral, such as establishing regional programs and we are doing this by collaborating with Hubbard, Todd and Wadena counties. Currently, there are 74 counties in the state of Minnesota that run a state-funded fraud prevention program. MN Stat. 256.98 addresses fraud prevention.
Fraud prevention is preventing the crime prior to it taking place. An example of this would be when a client applies for benefits and the caseworker reviews their information. If the caseworker feels like there is something suspicious or a discrepancy, the information would be forwarded to the investigator. The investigation would take place and the results would be referred back to the caseworker and the caseworker would determine if eligibility still exists or if there would be reduced benefits.
Public assistance (welfare) fraud investigations occur when the crime has already been committed. It is an intentional act of false or misleading statements or misrepresentation where you could be charged under wrongfully obtaining assistance (MN SS 256.98) or felony perjury if you lie on your documentation. A couple examples of this would be that benefits had been overpaid or the client misrepresented their financial situation. Sometimes this would occur when a client returns to work and doesn’t notify the caseworker.
These programs are a cooperative effort between the sheriff’s office, Health and Human Services and the state and that is what makes these programs work. Caseworkers are the key people, as they see the inconsistencies in paperwork, when mail is being returned or there are other factors that flag their attention. This is a legislatively directed investigation program. One of the requirements is that the investigation is completed in 15 days.
When there are questions regarding eligibility, searches are done on income, job history, bank records, credit checks and through talking with third parties. Surveillance may also occur, as well as issuing of subpoenas and conducting of search warrants.
When you apply for public assistance, you are required to sign a document that says all the information you are providing is true and correct, as well as a release to get records. If you lie on this form, it is a charge of felony perjury. There are also civil remedies that could prevent you from getting future assistance for anywhere from a year to a lifetime.
Often, the same people that are committing public assistance fraud are also committing theft in other ways, such as ID theft. Any money that these people are getting that they aren’t reporting (for example, casino wins) can lead to them being charged criminally or civilly. The state actively participates with and trains our investigators and caseworkers and provides computers and tracking equipment.
The goal of the fraud prevention program is to increase worker awareness and recipient awareness. And our goal in Cass County is to focus on fraud prevention. There are many people who legitimately need assistance and fraud prevention assures that there are funds available to help those in need. State and federal government agencies also work together in preventing and prosecuting these cases.
The sheriff’s office will be assigning one full-time deputy to the fraud investigator position. He has a strong financial background in accounting and was a controller of a multi-million dollar company. He has been with the sheriff’s office since 2003.
If you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, please feel free to contact me anytime using one of the following methods: email at firstname.lastname@example.org, phone at 218-547-1424 or 800-450-2677 or by mail/in person at Cass County Sheriff’s Office, 303 Minnesota Ave. W. PO Box NO. 1119, Walker, MN 56484