LOCKPORT – In the past six months Niagara County Social Services’ Program Integrity Unit, formerly called the Welfare Fraud Unit, along with the District Attorney’s Office and sheriff’s department, have worked together to recover more than a quarter-million dollars in cash and fraudulent future payments. That number exceeds the total recovery for the entire year for 13 of the last 14 years.
The savings since January are not the result of a single sting operation, but rather the day-to-day operations of the staff in those three departments which have been assigned to investigate, prosecute and recover fraudulently received welfare funds.
The Program Integrity Unit investigated more than 640 potential fraud referrals, and the sheriff’s department conducted more than 250 investigations, completing 49 arrests and negotiating 50 alternative-to-prosecution settlements. In addition, 51 criminal court cases were resolved since January.
A total of 76 people have been disqualified this year from receiving future benefits. Disqualifications range from six months to three years. Most were disqualified because they were either gainfully employed, claimed children not living with them or failed to report income from other sources.
Officials said a vast majority of families and individuals receiving temporary assistance and SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] benefits are honest and forthcoming, but fraud hurts Niagara County taxpayers and families in need. The agencies are committed to finding those who are defrauding taxpayers and bringing them to justice, noted the joint report of the investigation from Niagara County Sheriff James R. Voutour, District Attorney Michael J. Violante and Department of Social Services Commissioner Anthony J. Restaino.
Anyone who knows of a potential welfare fraud can call the Program Integrity Welfare Fraud hotline at 439-7788.