Dan Hust | Democrat
The county’s chief fraud investigator, Gerry Dietz, told legislators last week that his team is currently investigating more than 800 cases of alleged welfare fraud.
Fraud unit in high gear; Apollo deal may close
Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO October 11, 2013 The county’s chief fraud investigator, Gerry Dietz, told legislators last week that his team is currently investigating more than 800 cases of alleged welfare fraud.
“We’ve actually been inundated with tips,” Dietz affirmed. “Keep them coming! We’re trying to get to them as quickly as we can.”
“Quite a difference from last year,” Legislator Kitty Vetter dryly noted, when the team was not in its current form.
Dietz said that since March of this year, the county’s Fraud Unit has arrested three dozen people. Ten were arrested before they got benefits, one was arrested after selling their benefits card, and the other 25 were arrested after receiving benefits to which they were not entitled by filing false documentation or failing to report necessary information.
Dietz particularly recalled arresting one man who said he was a homeless local but was actually living in New Jersey and had $3,700 cash in his pocket.
Legislator Kathy LaBuda pointed out that the nearly $174,000 in recovered funds didn’t all return to the county, as the state and feds also get a cut.
“It’s not so much what’s coming back to us,” replied Legislator Gene Benson. “It’s about what we’re saving from going out.”
“We have to start being accountable for those dollars,” added Legislator Cindy Gieger.
“We were an easy mark [in the past],” explained Health Commissioner Randy Parker, under whom the Fraud Unit operates. “... But people are coming in now and saying, ‘I don’t want to be arrested! I didn’t tell you guys this ...’”
Total costs avoided top $17 million, said Dietz.
“We’ve only just scratched the surface,” Parker predicted.
To confidentially report suspected welfare fraud, call 513-2392 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Relief coming to veterans
The county’s Veterans Services Agency (VSA) lost longtime Veterans Services Officer Eric Nystrom last month when he retired, and he has yet to be replaced.
“I just talked with Howie [Goldsmith, a fellow officer], and they’re really struggling down there,” Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson told his colleagues.
“They’re overloaded,” explained Legislator Gene Benson, who chairs the Veterans Committee of the Legislature.
The county has a temporary hiring freeze in place while the 2014 budget is developed, but officials indicated a replacement for Nystrom is now in the works.
“I don’t want to shortchange the veterans,” Benson affirmed, adding that he’d like to see another veterans services officer brought on in addition to Nystrom’s replacement, in order to handle the workload better.
Apollo deal near
Despite rumors to the contrary, Legislator Ira Steingart affirmed last week that the deal to sell the Apollo Mall property to Butch Resnick and company is close to being sealed.
“They want to proceed very much,” he said.
Now that a remaining slice of property has been joined with the rest of the former mall’s holdings, the county is proceeding with transferring the property to the Sullivan County Funding Corporation, which will then strike the formal deal with Resnick.
In the meantime, said Steingart, Resnick is soliciting retailers for the complex, which will be renovated to feature a supermarket and other stores.