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Fraud detection saves county $1M ADVERTISEMENT

Fraud detection saves county $1M

MONTOUR FALLS--Schuyler County District Attorney Joseph Fazzary reported a savings of more than $1 million to the county as a result of welfare fraud investigations in 2014. The announcement came during a press conference at the Human Services Facility in Montour Falls Thursday, Feb. 26, which focused on the impact the addition of an investigator position for the Department of Social Services (DSS) has had on the county since being filled in February of 2014. In 10 months of service, Fazzary said there have been 330 investigations which have resulted in 23 arrests and 79 cases being closed with benefit reductions.
Fazzary said the position had been vacant for two years prior to the appointment, adding prior to having this position, there have only been four to eight arrests in the last three to four years.
"The legislative and DSS initiative was put into place with the idea that if a full-time investigator were to be placed in the welfare fraud unit of DSS, more acts of fraud would be detected and prosecuted," according to Fazzary's press release. "The result would be a significant cost savings to the county, offenders would be punished and others would be deterred from committing fraudulent acts."
Fazzary said Senior Welfare Fraud Examiner with DSS Tammy Brown had been doing the job of investigating welfare fraud cases on her own for the past few years before the position was filled. Brown said a majority of the cases investigated had to do with failing to report income, while they also have to deal with cases of falsifying documents. She said in order to get a criminal conviction, DSS must prove there was intent to commit welfare fraud.
Schuyler County Sheriff William Yessman said there was money from the state -- from the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance -- to fund the position, adding Investigator Craig Bianco was moved to the new position from the sheriff's office. Bianco said most investigations can take "several weeks" to conclude, adding he had one particular case dating back to 2010 that took two months to investigate that did not end up with a criminal charge. He said most incidents do not date back much further than 2013.
Fazzary said they usually discuss between 30 and 40 cases during the monthly meetings between his office, the sheriff's office and DSS. He said the longer a case of fraud goes undetected, the greater restitution amount will need to be paid back to the county. Fazzary stressed the importance of front end detection for these cases, saying "it is harder to get the money back for the county than it is to detect it up front."
Social Services Commissioner JoAnn Fratarcangelo said members of the public tend to let DSS know if they suspect instances of welfare fraud, adding there were 126 fraud referrals during the 10 month period. She said not only does catching those committing fraud deter others from committing the crime, it also reduces the stigma attached to welfare for those who receive social services, as it shows they truly require the assistance. Fratarcangelo said not all investigations result in criminal charges -- which can result in an average sanction period of one year for first time offenders -- but added benefits may be reduced if those receiving them fail to notify the department about additional income they are receiving.

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