County's Restructured Fraud Unit Leading The Way To Crack Down On Abuse Of Services
FONDA - County Executive Matthew L. Ossenfort announced on Thursday that the increased amount of people charged with committing welfare fraud, in 2017, is a direct result of the restructuring of the Fraud Unit at the Department of Social Services. The extensive team work and collaboration has led to six arrests this month and has resulted in a more proactive approach to combating welfare fraud. The county intends to aggressively pursue legal action against those who attempt to defraud taxpayers.
"We are taking a zero tolerance approach to people who abuse the system," Ossenfort said. "The county is working incredibly hard to be as efficient as possible, as stewards of taxpayer dollars. We want to send a clear message that anyone who is attempting to abuse the system is subject to prosecution. Welfare is a service available to those in our community who are in need of that assistance. Any abuse of these programs simply will not be tolerated."
In 2016, the Fraud Unit was reconstituted, in the pursuit of more efficiency. Six part-time workers were transitioned to three part-time Fraud Investigators, a full-time supervisor and a Social Welfare Examiner. This allowed the unit to better cover the entire county, while taking stress off of the other examiners. It also allowed the unit to be more proactive, when searching for people who are abusing and defrauding the system.
"We are in good shape now, with a strong team in place," said Commissioner of Social Services Michael McMahon. "These recent arrests are a credit to the hard work of Investigative Coordinator Josh Navratil and his team for tracking these individuals down. We rely on help from the community to combat welfare fraud, so I urge anyone who suspects fraud to reach out to the county and we will investigate those claims fully."
The collaboration between the Department of Social Services, the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office, the Amsterdam Police Department, the state Inspector General's office, the local courts and the District Attorney's office have been the main reason that this effort has been so successful.
"While campaigning in 2016, I met a large number of residents and one of the main concerns was claims of welfare fraud," said District Attorney Kelli McCoski. "People complained that they knew of others receiving public assistance to which they were not entitled, for one reason or another. I encouraged them to contact Commissioner McMahon's office and that the matter would be fully investigated. In the short time that I have held this position, it has become very apparent that the Fraud Unit has not taken its role lightly. With the tireless work of law enforcement, a large number of arrests have been made. Welfare fraud places a burden on all taxpayers and the residents of Montgomery County can rest assured that my office will continue to prosecute these cases and attempt to recoup the money fraudulently obtained. I am committed to standing strong in this fight."
The county is utilizing a Resource Recovery Office to attempt to recover funds that were taken by those who abused the system. In fact, the county is pushing for repayment of abused funds, rather than jail time, when possible. These recovered funds are then brought back into the county and help to alleviate the high costs of these social service programs.
The county encourages residents to report any suspicions of welfare fraud and they will be investigated. Residents can call the county's Social Services office, in Amsterdam, at (518) 212-5829, or visit the report welfare fraud website*.