The Maine Department of Health and Human Services’ Fraud Investigation and Recovery Unit says it has uncovered the theft of more than $1.2 million in state welfare benefits in 2015.

Unauthorized use of EBT cards, falsified documents, lying about income, hidden trust funds and an unusual act of fraud called “water dumping” were examples offered by the DHHS in a statement issued Wednesday.

Samantha Edwards, spokeswoman for the DHHS, cited several examples of welfare fraud that included mugshots of the offenders who were successfully prosecuted.

The state said a woman from Norway pleaded guilty Jan. 8 to trafficking food stamp benefits. Investigators say she used her EBT card to buy cases of bottled water, then dumped the water out and took the bottles to a redemption center. The state said she used the money from the bottle returns to buy beer, which cannot be purchased with an EBT card. The woman was ordered to pay restitution to the DHHS and is ineligible to receive food stamp benefits for one year.

“Store employees noticed what was happening and came forward,” said Tom Roth, executive director of fraud operations for the DHHS, in a prepared statement. “This community engagement is vital to holding individuals accountable.”

The state said in its press release that DHHS investigators brought a record 105 welfare fraud cases to the Attorney General’s Office for prosecution in 2015 – a caseload that represents the theft of more than $1.2 million in benefits.


Edwards said that in 2014, a total of 81 welfare fraud cases were prosecuted, up from 66 in 2013, 45 in 2012, 32 in 2011, 10 in 2010, and none in 2009.

“DHHS is certainly finding and prosecuting more welfare fraud,” Edwards said in an email. “While it’s impossible to quantify exactly how much fraud exists, we know that any amount of fraud is unacceptable and we will continue every effort to find it, stop it and prosecute it.”

EBT cards are debit cards issued to recipients of public benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. SNAP, commonly known as food stamps, is limited to food puchases.

The number of Mainers receiving both types of benefits has dropped considerably over the last five years, largely because of efforts by Gov. Paul LePage and others to make it more difficult to receive assistance. According to the DHHS, the LePage administration has nearly doubled the staff in the Fraud Investigation and Recovery Unit to focus on criminal prosecutions. Seventeen investigators are spread out over 11 offices.

In 2015, the unit received 2,773 complaints concerning possible welfare abuse. More than 1,500 tips or complaints came from the public.

The DHHS said that in 2015 a total of 130,413 EBT cards were issued by the state. More than $311 million was spent in EBT card transactions, including cash withdrawals.


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