Two people were arrested on welfare fraud charges Friday, capping a weeklong crackdown on alleged welfare cheats in which 44 people were arrested.
County officials had hoped to arrest 64 people, but still managed to make more arrests in five days than the 35 people who were arrested on welfare fraud charges since Jan. 1.
The total number of people sought, including people up for grand jury action, owe the county Social Services Department an estimated $271,209 for illegally obtained public assistance money and food stamps they applied for without declaring all of their personal finances along with money they failed to pay in family support.
The sweep that began Monday was capped off Friday with the two arrests in Niagara Falls and Lockport.
Cheri Bradberry, 27, of 475 Dartmouth Ave., Buffalo, was charged with grand larceny and offering a false instrument for filing in Niagara Falls for allegedly applying for and obtaining $1,746 in public assistance money without declaring money she earned working at the Marine Midland Bank, Sheriff's Deputies James Hull and James Voutour said.
Karen J. Nealy, 45, of 835 Payne Ave., North Tonawanda, was charged with offering a false instrument for filing in Lockport after she allegedly understated her income while applying for food stamps, police said.
In addition to Friday's arrests, sheriff's deputies and investigators and Niagara Falls and Lockport detectives and police officers arrested 15 people Monday, 14 Tuesday, eight Wednesday and five Thursday.
While the planned week-long crackdown is over, Niagara County sheriff's Inspector Edward Stefik said the sheriff's Welfare Fraud Unit under Chief Sheila Haley is making this a continuous effort.
Social Services Commissioner Bonita L. Quaranta, who played a major role in planning the crackdown, said while it is important to eliminate cheating in the system, she said it is important to recognized that her department's mission is to serve people who need help. "We are not looking for fraud because we are here to take care of people who really need our assistance. Our goal is to take care of need. We are here to help, not to look to arrest people," Ms. Quaranta said.
However, in the process of reviewing cases and conducting interviews, it may be determined that people are cheating the system and therefore legal action is required, she said.
She said the number of fraud cases is slowly declining and that the amounts people bilk the county out of are getting smaller.