Nearly three dozen people are in jail for public assistance fraud. It was one of the largest sweeps officials participated in in the Cayuga County area. The charges vary from misuse of food stamps to Medicaid fraud. Our Iris St. Meran tells us the message police hope to send with these arrests.
CAYUGA COUNTY, N.Y. -- A newly formed Cayuga County Welfare Taskforce participated in one of the largest arrest sweeps in the county. Wednesday, 33 people were arrested for public assistance fraud.
Cayuga County District Attorney Jon Budelmann said, "That's a huge number. Normally, we'd prosecute I'd say 15 to 20 of these as felonies a year. We stepped that up this year. We've been doing more cases, but certainly 33 is a large number."
The individuals are facing a number of felony and or misdemeanor charges including third and fourth degree grand larceny, third, fourth and fifth degree welfare fraud, misuse of food stamps, Medicaid fraud, petit larceny and offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree.
"The top charges of the ones arrested in today's sweep are class ‘D’ felonies. They are up to seven years in prison each count. There are some ‘E’ felonies that are up to four years prison and some misdemeanors that are up to a year in jail,” Budelmann added. “They all carry restitution so they'll pay back what they inappropriately got and fines up to $5,000 on felonies."
Authorities say this fraud represents more than $120,000 in wrongfully obtained public assistance benefits. If the defendants plead guilty or are convicted, taxpayers will save more than $200,000 because the defendants would be disqualified from receiving benefits.
Benefits, the sheriff says, should help those who actually need it and more than anything he hopes this news is a cautionary tale.
"Don't fraudulently file papers in this county for kind of social service assistance because if you do we will find you and we will arrest you and that will end," said Cayuga County Sheriff David Gould.
This isn't the end for law enforcers. They are still actively searching for others.
Earlier this year, 42 people were prosecuted for welfare fraud and related charges.