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Controversial camp owner to pay $15,000 restitution in benefits fraud

Eva J. Hedges, owner of a controversial Niagara Falls summer camp where a girl drowned in 2008, pleaded guilty this week to a felony, got out of jail and agreed to repay more than $15,000 in illegally received government benefits.

Hedges, 64, will pay $15,473 to the Social Security Administration and $128 to the Niagara County Department of Social Services as part of a plea agreement approved Wednesday in Niagara County Court.

The agreement wrapped up a case that arose when Hedges returned to the United States last month after more than a year in her native Poland.

Her lawyer said Hedges still faces a civil lawsuit in connection with the Aug. 14, 2008, death of Magdalena Lubowska, 12, of the Bronx. The girl fell into the Niagara River during an outing organized by Hedges' summer camp in the Niagara Gorge.

Judge Matthew J. Murphy III sentenced Hedges, a U.S. citizen, to a conditional discharge after she admitted to a charge of first-degree offering a false instrument for filing.

She was indicted on charges of not mentioning that her two adult sons, Timothy and Phillip, were living with her on Fourth Street in Niagara Falls when she filed a food stamp recertification in March 2007. Allegedly false recertifications in September 2007 and March 2008 also were part of the indictment.

Hedges also filed for food stamps Nov. 12, two days after returning to the United States from Poland. Assistant District Attorney Heather A. DeCastro said that Hedges filed for those in Phillip Hedges' name but that he is still abroad. That's the reason for the $128 restitution to the county.

As part of the plea, Eva Hedges had to turn in Phillip's electronic benefit card and accept a one-year disqualification from food stamps for herself.

However, defense attorney George V.C. Muscato said Hedges' passport, confiscated last month, will be returned to her.

DeCastro said Eva Hedges ran afoul of Social Security by leaving the country last year but continuing to receive Supplemental Security Income disability checks. The prosecutor said anyone who is out of the country for more than 30 days cannot receive SSI.

Muscato said the Fourth Street property, which is in Phillip Hedges' name, is for sale. "When the house is sold, she will honor her commitment to pay those sums of money," Muscato said.

Hedges was smiling because she was freed after 37 days in jail. Muscato said, "She's extremely relieved that these proceedings have been resolved."

Not resolved are charges against Timothy Hedges, 26. He is wanted on a misdemeanor warrant for endangering the welfare of a child in the drowning. Eva Hedges told police he organized and led the outing at the gorge.

Timothy also is under indictment on two felony counts of filing a false instrument in connection with Social Services applications March 20, 2006, and May 16, 2007.

Muscato said, "Tim remains out of the country. I honestly don't know where Tim is. Phil is with Tim."

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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