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Orange County NewsFor Immediate Release Contact: Christopher BorekOctober 18, 2018 845.291.3276, 845.238.4245c
Twenty-Five Defendants Charged with Stealing over $275,000 in Welfare,
Food Stamps, and Other Public Assistance Benefits
Goshen, NY – Orange County District Attorney David M. Hoovler, joined by Orange County Sheriff Carl E. DuBois, on October 18, 2018, announced that twenty-five defendants have been charged with felonies, including welfare fraud and grand larceny, for illegally obtaining over $275,000 in public assistance benefits administered through the Orange County Department of Social Services (DSS). The enforcement action was the result of the collaborative efforts of the DSS Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the Sheriff’s Office, and the District Attorney’s Office.
During the investigation of the cases, civil investigators from the SIU reviewed files of twenty-five public assistance recipients suspected of fraud, interviewed those recipients, and forwarded cases to the District Attorney’s Office for further investigation. Investigators from the District Attorney’s Office then interviewed many of the recipients before filing charges against them. The total amount allegedly stolen from DSS in the cases identified in this enforcement action is $275,878.60.
This public benefits fraud enforcement action is the eighth since District Attorney Hoovler took office. To date, 199 individuals have been charged with welfare fraud and other crimes in those enforcement actions. The total dollar amount of fraud involved in those cases is nearly $3,000,000.
So far, the County has been repaid more than $590,000 by criminal defendants who were charged in the enforcement actions. Since the enforcement actions began in June 2014, DSS has also collected approximately $230,000 from recipients who voluntarily paid back benefits that they received but were not entitled to. Those recipients repaid those funds after being contacted by DSS civil investigators, without any additional arrest or prosecutorial action by the Sheriff’s Office or the District Attorney’s Office. By comparison, in the three years before the first enforcement action, DSS civil investigators only collected approximately $48,000 from similarly-situated recipients. In 2011, 2012, and 2013 combined, only $12,127.31 was recovered in welfare fraud prosecutions, and only four defendants were charged. Three prosecutions were brought in 2011, one was brought in 2012, and no prosecutions were brought in 2013 against those who defrauded DSS.
The majority of the fraudulently obtained public benefits involved in this enforcement action were from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as “food stamps,” although some of the fraud included Temporary Assistance (TA), Public Assistance (PA), and child care benefits.
Defendants arrested in the most-recent enforcement action include:
PLACE OF RESIDENCE
Welfare Fraud 3
Grand Larceny 3
The District Attorney’s Office and Orange County Sheriff’s Office are asking for the public’s help in locating the following defendants who are currently wanted on arrest warrants:
Lana Jones (Brewer)
Christopher Nieves, 31, of Middletown, was charged with Welfare Fraud in the Third Degree and Grand Larceny in the Third Degree. It is alleged that he obtained $12,480 in SNAP benefits by falsifying information concerning his income, including submitting altered paystubs to DSS to make his income appear lower than it actually was.
The District Attorney is requesting the public’s aid in locating Katrine Kronaj, 74, and Pale Kronaj, 84, both of whom reside in Albania. It is alleged that they travel to Orange County from their home in Albania solely to recertify for public benefits, and that their public benefits card is then used by others in Orange County after they return to Albania. They are alleged to have stolen over $32,000 in public benefits. The investigation into their case continues. Anyone with information is encouraged to call the District Attorney’s Office at (845) 291-3276.
Mary Donoghue, 68, who resides in Ireland, is wanted on a felony complaint charging her with Welfare Fraud in the Third Degree and Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, for collecting public benefits in Orange County, while concealing that at the same time she was receiving a pension in Ireland.
District Attorney Hoovler highly commended Orange County Commissioner of Social Services Darcie Miller, and the Department of Social Services Special Investigations Unit for their work on the cases, as well as Orange County Sheriff Carl DuBois and the investigators in his office, who aided in the arrest of the defendants.
The maximum sentence for the Class D Felonies of Welfare Fraud in the Third Degree and Grand Larceny in the Third Degree is 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison.
“Nearly three million dollars in fraud has been attributed to criminal defendants since we began these enforcement actions in 2014,” said District Attorney Hoovler. “Stopping that staggering theft of public money, and recouping public money which has been fraudulently taken, has been a major priority of my Office since I became District Attorney. The Department of Social Services Special Investigations Unit’s civil investigators and Sheriff’s Office’s investigators have worked with District Attorney’s Office investigators and prosecutors not only to successfully prosecute offenders, but to recover hundreds of thousands of dollars stolen from public benefits programs, and to recover over a million dollars from tax frauds. We evaluate all of these cases individually, and make appropriate plea offers to lesser offenses if the circumstances warrant it. However, in all cases, defendants are not allowed to keep funds that they should not have received in the first place. Public benefits programs are designed to help the truly needy, and to ensure that money remains available to help those who need it. Fraud in these programs cannot be tolerated and must be prosecuted.”
“The County will continue to aggressively prosecute anyone who abuses Orange County’s social services,” said Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus. “District Attorney Hoovler and his office has had success recovering public money that has been taken via fraud, and these types of cases will remain a priority for us. Cheating the system and the hardworking taxpayers of Orange County is simply unacceptable.”
“The Orange County Sheriff’s Office has a long-standing partnership with the District Attorney’s Office and other county agencies,” said Orange County Sheriff Carl E. DuBois, “in this and other efforts to ensure the proper distribution of benefits to those that are in need, and to arrest those that choose to cheat the system by fraudulent means. Our partnership in these investigations is ongoing and maximizes enforcement efforts put forth.”
The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Tanja Beemer.
A criminal charge is merely an allegation that a defendant has committed a violation of the criminal law, and it is not evidence of guilt. All defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial, during which it will be the State of New York’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.