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A former Buffalo man must repay more than $48,000 in welfare benefits he collected illegally here in the mid-1990s, a judge ruled Thursday in one of the largest welfare fraud cases ever in Western New York.

State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia, who found Anthony LaMonte guilty of felony welfare fraud charges July 26 following a three-week nonjury trial, put LaMonte on probation for five years and ordered him to repay the state and county.

Buscaglia warned LaMonte, 41, who works for an area parking business but has lived in Fort Erie, Ont., for most of the past decade, that he faces a five- to seven-year state prison term for any further criminal misconduct.

Assistant District Attorney Kelley A. Omel, said the LaMonte case is "among the top" welfare fraud cases uncovered in the Buffalo area in decades and "is even more unusual than your garden-variety welfare fraud because the suspect lives in a foreign country."

Though LaMonte cannot be extradited from Canada, Buscaglia warned him that if he violates his probation, an arrest warrant will be lodged for him at all U.S.-Canadian borders.

A grand jury indicted LaMonte last year on felony welfare fraud charges after he illegally obtained food stamps and falsified documents to get publicly funded drug treatments.

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