Fraud investigation targets Lewiston welfare cheats

LEWISTON — Mayor Robert Macdonald on Tuesday announced a city effort to cut down on welfare fraud and waste that includes kicking 84 people off the city's General Assistance lists, 50 of whom are accused of fraud.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Lewiston Mayor Bob Macdonald on Tuesday announces a city effort to cut down on welfare cheats. 

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Sue Charron, social services director for the city of Lewiston, Mayor Bob Macdonald, left, and City Council President Mark Cayer on Tuesday announce that the city has cracked down on welfare fraud. 

It's part of a larger campaign aimed at cutting down on welfare cheats in the city.

"We're not going to be known as a welfare town anymore," Macdonald said. "If you want to come here, don't come here for welfare, because if we catch you, you will be prosecuted."

Police Chief Michael Bussiere said police were pursuing fraud charges against 12 people cut from the city's welfare rolls. He declined to name them, but said they could face up to six months in jail, as well as fines, if convicted.

"Our job is to investigate the complaint," Bussiere said. "The city, just like anyone else that suspects they are a victim of fraud, gets to make a complaint. Our job is to develop probable cause and determine if a crime has been committed."

Four city residents were issued summonses on Monday. All 12 were expected to be charged this week, Bussiere said. And the investigation will not stop with them, he said.

Macdonald promised there would be more charges filed later in the year.

"Before the summer, it is going be a much larger number," Macdonald said. "And the ones we are going after next are a lot more serious."

Sue Charron, the city's social services director, said 225 people get General Assistance. Single recipients can be eligible for up to $471 per month to help pay for basic necessities: housing, utilities, medicine and food.

Charron said 34 of the people cut had neglected administrative requirements. They had not completed their required job training programs, had quit a job or were fired. They were not accused of fraud, she said.

Of the 50 accused of fraud, Charron said most had lied about applying for work. General Assistance recipients must fill out a form detailing where they applied for jobs.

"They need to actually leave applications, so when we call, they can confirm it," Charron said. "What they were doing was just writing names down and they were not actually applying for work."

Charron said the city does occasionally check those forms.

"We try to do it as best we can, but we had not done it for some time because we have been so busy," Charron said. "But we took a bunch and decided to check."

People can be kicked off General Assistance rolls for up to 120 days if the department finds fraud.

"On the 121st day, they can come back, and they don't have to make restitution or anything," Charron said. "But they can be charged. What we are going to do now in Lewiston is, if you commit fraud, you will be charged. It's not going to be as easy as just coming back."

Macdonald said he also wants the city to adopt rules for fining landlords when their tenants misbehave.

"If police are called to a certain residency a certain number of times in one month, the landlord is fined $50," Macdonald said.

Macdonald said he's not targeting the poor; he's targeting the dishonest.

"We have the working poor down there," Macdonald said. "Those are the people who work in the coffee shops. Those are the people who get up every morning and go to jobs. However, a lot of them are kept up all night long by some of the people we are charging. These people sleep all day and party all night."

staylor@sunjournal.com

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Comments

David Russell's picture

Fining landlords when their tenants misbehave?

I love the fact that Lewiston is FINALLY cracking down on welfare fraud. A few years ago I could have given you a list of blatant offenders that would have kept them quite busy.

But, my reason for writing is to say how idiotic and mercenary it is to fine landlords for the actions of others. That is only another way to collect money for the city's coffers and one that would offend me deeply if I still lived in Lewiston.

I am a landlord in Bangor. I have tenants in my own building. We are quite close with the tenants in that we often share meals and visit with one another. They are students at Husson. I am 60 years old and normally like to know what goes on in my house. As close as we are, most of the time, i have no idea where they are or what they are doing. Recently one of them had an argument in the dooryard with a boyfriend and the police were called by a neighbor. I was on the opposite side of the house watching a movie and did not know anything about it until late the next day.

Should I be held responsible if something had happened? I think it silly and communist to think I should be. If I didn't know of something so close, almost in my presence, but not quite, how am i going to be aware of anything that is carried on clandestinely in a building blocks or miles away? I could not be.

Welfare programs breed and exacerbate the very problems they are supposed to eliminate. Eliminate the welfare programs for all but the elderly and the truly disabled (NOT the bums that say they are disabled) and some of the problems will begin to go away. Section 8 housing, and like programs, encourage landlords to accept low-class tenants because the state or city come in and repair the apartments and pay the rent for these people. Many, if not most, of these people would go on to become upstanding citizens if their financial crutches were removed. Everyone in society would benefit.

Eric  LeBlanc's picture

What are all you loudmouths

What are all you loudmouths going to do when the displaced poor kick in your front door and pistol whip you and your family?

Andrew Jones's picture

Because the threat of

Because the threat of possible additional crime from criminals is reason to turn a blind eye to theft of city services.

Jeff Johnson's picture

Pistol whip?

It's extremely hard to pistol whip anyone when you're leaking from a few homeowner-inflicted holes. This is the exact reason why I have concealed carry, and a well organized home defense system.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Scapegoating

I did say I don't condone welfare cheats. But you can see from these posts how scapegoating an unpopular group makes people feel good. It almost makes folks feel as if we are solving our present financial dilemma when in reality this will not only not fix it but may even exascerbate it. It's like having a huge fast food meal. You feel full but the nutrition is not there and you end up fat with diabetes. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the long run. You cannot have a society that exhaults winners without at the same time creating losers. Nothing anyone does will make them disappear and most historical efforts to eradicate them has led to way greater problems than 150 folks out of a population of thousands getting $400 a month.

 's picture

Good

Good for Lewiston. Every city and town in Maine should be doing the same thing. It is time to clean this state up. The people who need and deserve help should get it, but the rest of them should go somewhere else -- including jail when appropriate.

Gail Labelle's picture

Fraud investigation targets Lewiston welfare cheats

Yeah finally it is about time and I applaud the Mayor of Lewiston for doing this. A few years back it was reported that numerous families were applying for welfare and were members of the same family , they were married to the same man! I hope he tightens up the rules not only "who" is eligable to receive add some mandatory job training in there as well. I agree with the landlord fee and I will explain why. As a former landlord in the city I agree with this method. It cuts down on many absent landlords who do not keep tabs on thier property or the tenants who live there. It cuts down on crime within the structure or structures and it tightens controls on who one rents too! It also make the person who owns the property responsible for the actions of their tenants. I disagree with the comment making someone else responsible for another's behavior "parenting". If you own a building in Lewiston you should know who is renting from you and you should be aware of any activity that goes on in the building. There always was a volunteering aspect to the requirements of receiving welfare, I would like to see that strengthen and add if not already a requirement for training and work requirements. Next I hope he works on the drug activity in the city I know it is difficult but it is needed.....

 's picture

Soon

Soon Somalians will be running both Auburn and Lewiston once they become the majority

John Moro's picture

the mayor shold run for

the mayor shold run for governer

 's picture

Grumbling of a coffee shop customer

Is going after fraud the right thing to do? Yes, of course. Is letting the mayor speak into a microphone ever a good idea? No. "These people..." "Those people..." Ugh.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Arithmetic

I wonder if the savings , given that we will have to have more people enforcing and checking everything, will even out the cuts to revenue sharing and the contributions to the State retirement system the mayor told the governor we would be happy to live without. Not that I sanction actual cheating but a lot of this seems to amount to paperwork errors or just carelessness. Just because they didn't fill in the paperwork correctly or failed to realistically look for work does not necessarily mean they are qualified to work and would have been hired had they tried. I have a sneaking suspicion that this will amount to a lot of work for the clerks that won't amount to much in the long run. Hopefully they will at least catch a handful of actual cheaters. In the meantime we will be eating millions of dollars in state and federal cuts and feeding and housing these cheaters in our jails. Maybe this is just a way of shifting the blame for the pain in advance.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Maybe we should just suck it

Maybe we should just suck it up and allow the fraud to continue at all levels. Would that suffice in keeping the bleeding hearts content?

GARY SAVARD's picture

Claire, GA is paid for by the

Claire, GA is paid for by the City, with MAYBE a little help from the State when we reach a certain limit. The Feds pay nothing for GA. Also, State, local or Fed money all comes out of the same pockets, the taxpayers. Liberal is liberal, but Sheesh!

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Conservatism is an

Conservatism is an intellectual pursuit; liberalism is an emotional orgy.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

There they go, picking on the

There they go, picking on the 'poor' people again.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Hahaha...two actually thought

Hahaha...two actually thought I was serious?

Wayne Saunders's picture

they also need to drug screen

they also need to drug screen all recipients its only fair since the money that came from taxpayers . alot of hardworking citizens get drug screen for work!

Wayne Saunders's picture

its about time!

Its about time! I am all for helping people but there is a fine line when you have people taking advantage of our hard earned taxpayer.we need to take this country back and stop catering to peoples alcohol and drug habits!

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Give a man welfare for a

Give a man welfare for a couple of years, you're helping him out. Give him welfare for 5 or more years, and you're supporting his lifestyle.

 's picture

Congratulations

Congratulations to the mayor and the city of Lewiston for finally tackling this problem, which occurs in all our towns and cities, but no body has the courage to do something about it.
The other towns in the state better be on the look out, because most of the people (not all) on welfare are career welfare cheats, and they will be knocking on your door.

Bob Berry's picture

I was with him...

I was 100% with him, right up until he wants to penalize landlords for tenants behaviors. Making someone responsible for another's behavior is called parenting, not landlording. It seems wrong. If they want to go at noise and other issues of the type, enforce the city ordinances. If the ordinances do not allow police proper enforcement of nighttime noise ordinances, fix that instead.

Sandra Coulombe's picture

It is past time for all

It is past time for all levels of government to be cracking down on those committing fraud. They hurt the people who actually honestly need the help. The next step needs to be adding a volunteer work requirement to all forms of aid for those who are able. Walk through most of the city and you will find it covered in liter. Why are these people, who are perfectly able to work, getting general assistance not out there cleaning up? Make people work for the help they receive if they are able to do so.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

What? And give up all that

What? And give up all that free money?

RONALD RIML's picture

Using Mayor Macdonald's (Landlord/Tenant) Logic

If the city of Lewiston is covered in litter - then obviously neither the Police nor the Public Works Departments are doing their jobs.

So who do you 'Sack' - The Mayor?? The Department Heads?

MARK GRAVEL's picture

I say we fine Ronald Riml.

I say we fine Ronald Riml. All agree?

GARY SAVARD's picture

This is long overdue. Any

This is long overdue. Any cheaters should be prosecuted for fraud. Losing your benefits for 120 days and then all is forgiven, and you're back on the taxpayer dime 'til you get caught again is a joke. No wonder Lewiston is a magnet for layabouts and lowlifes. To say that there is not enough time to check on these people in order to make sure that they are abiding by the rules should'nt even be an option.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

What they'd pay someone to do

What they'd pay someone to do the checking would easily be offset by the savings they'd realize from the results of the enforcement.

GARY SAVARD's picture

Paul ,I agree, but even if

Paul ,I agree, but even if it were an offset, it would be worth the expense because of the future benefits derived from putting the message out there that Lewison is no longer a welfare free for all city.

GARY SAVARD's picture

"Lewiston". Long day.

"Lewiston". Long day.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Roger that...

Roger that...

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