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Shelby County Cracking Down on Welfare Fraud
SHELBY COUNTY -- Authorities say they are aggressively investigating and prosecuting welfare fraud in the county.
To demonstrate that effort, the Shelby County Prosecutor's Office, the county's Sheriff's Office and Department of Job & Family Services held a news conference Friday morning and provided several examples of recent welfare fraud cases.
Authorities say Kristina Macias was convicted of falsification for reportedly fraudulently completing an application for child care assistance and Medicaid by alleging she and her husband no longer lived together. Prosecutors say they, in fact, were living together, and she would not have been eligible for child care assistance had she reported that. Macias was ordered to make restitution of $38,043.61.
Christine Hughes and Gloria Pierce each were convicted of fraudulently securing dental services. Pierce reportedly allowed Hughes to use her Medicaid card to secure dental care. Pierce was sentenced to serve 147 days in jail and make restitution of the $531.08 in dental care. Hughes was sentenced to probation for five years and ordered to make restitution of $531.08.
Authorities say Stephanie Brewer falsified an application for food assistance by misrepresenting family income. If she had provided accurate information, authorities say, she still would have qualified for assistance but at a lower level. Brewer was sentenced to probation for five years and restitution of $4,122.
Nichole Teegarten was convicted Jan. 9 for falsification, for failing to report changes in her income. Authorities say she was overpaid $5,908.33 in child care assistance.
Christine M. Cyphers was convicted Jan. 17 for falsifying applications for food and medical assistance and misrepresenting her address. Authorities say she was overpaid $2,111 for food and medical assistance.
Sentencing is pending for both Teegarten and Cyphers.
According to Shelby County Prosecutor Tim Sell, three other indictments related to welfare fraud are pending. Another woman, Heather Herring, is wanted on suspicion of welfare fraud and is currently being sought by law enforcement.
"Those committing welfare fraud will be identified and brought to justice in the courts," Sell said.
Of the seven people indicted here on welfare fraud, you'll notice they're all women. The sheriff's office is calling them the new face of crime.
"I think it is a new face, They're white Caucasians mid 25, 30, 35 years old," said Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart.
"They're all women, most of them are about my age," said Sidney Parent Jennifer Gutman. "They should be punished, they're benefits should be taken away, they should be looking at jail time. They should probably be more stringent verifications for people applying so that way they don't get them in the first place."
That's the hope with this new effort from county officials. They know the residual affects are worse than just wasting taxpayer money.
"SNAP Cards are used as American currency," said Lenhart. "They are the new money if you will. You can trade those and they are traded for drugs, traded for alcohol, sex, guns , you name it."
Authorities say that food stamp disbursements more than doubled between 2008 and 2011, due in part to the slow economy and high unemployment. The Food & Drug Administration reported a 30 percent increase in food stamp fraud during that same time frame. The rate of food stamp fraud is 1.3 percent, less than half of what it was in the 1990s. However, authorities say that the dollar amount of food stamp fraud -- $858 million -- is at a record high because of the increase in the number of people using the system.
Shelby County resident who suspect welfare fraud to call the Fraud Hotline at 937-498-4981 and select Option 3, and then Option 5. Tips can remain anonymous.
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