Lewiston cops nab six in welfare fraud net

LEWISTON — Police have charged six residents this week with local welfare fraud and expect to charge more by the end of the week, authorities said Wednesday.

Those issued criminal summonses are:

* Idey Aden, 27, of 77 Birch St.;

* Shawn Turner, 28, of 94 College St.;

* Charles Bumey, 33, of 129 Oak St.;

* Joaquin Lorenzo-Melendez, 46, of 99 Knox St.;

* Roy Hunter, 38, of 133 Sabattus St,; and

* Sean Young, 44, of 68 Knox St.

Each was charged with false representation, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

The recent roundup is part of an effort to crack down on welfare cheats, Mayor Robert McDonald announced Tuesday at a news conference at City Hall.

Maine law says anyone who knowingly puts false information on a city or state welfare application is guilty of the crime and is ineligible for assistance for 120 days.

McDonald said 84 people were targeted to be dropped from General Assistance, 50 of them for possible criminal violations.

Some of those charged so far have minor criminal histories. Turner has several unrelated convictions dating back to 2005, including assault and terrorizing.

Police Chief Michael Bussiere said Wednesday his staff was working with city welfare staff to identify cases than could be prosecuted.

“It's not like we can just go out there and summons everybody who gets referred to us,” he said. “We have to take a look at each individual case to determine if there's probable cause to believe a crime has occurred and, if that's the case, we'll summon them to court.”

That could take a while.

“It's going to be a long process and require a lot of follow-up investigation,” Bussiere said.

Not only are those who commit fraud breaking the law, they're taking taxpayers' money from other people who legitimately receive benefits, he said.

“There's only a finite amount of General Assistance resources and money available, so if we don't do something to weed out the people who are potentially committing these frauds, there's less money available for the people who really need it,” he said.

Lewiston police have worked in recent years in tandem with prosecutors at the Maine Attorney General's Office to bring those defrauding the state and federal welfare systems to justice.

Some of the more notable cases involved the sale of Eletronic Benefit Transfer or EBT cards that are connected to state and federal assistance accounts, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps).

Another recent case resulted in the conviction of a local variety store owner who accepted SNAP benefits in exchange for alcohol and cigarettes, items not allowed under the terms of that program.

cwilliams@sunjournal.com

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Comments

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Never mind the 120 day

Never mind the 120 day furlough. If they're found guilty of welfare fraud, they should be banned from any welfare assistance, PERIOD!!!

Jen Holmes's picture

So happy to see this

We have to start somewhere and I am glad that it is finally being investigated. It's ridiculous the amount of fraud I see on a daily basis.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Probable cause

I think people who cheat the system should be punished and people should follow all the rules and workfare for those who are physically, mentally and psychologically able to work is a dandy idea. However what seems to be lost here is that somebody was supposed to be checking these forms. What happened there? We have people who were paid to do a job not doing it and people paid to look for work not doing it. I think we would be better off if the people who are responsible for checking those forms were doing it in the first place instead of having to do all this investigating and prosecuting and jailing. Why are we just starting to do this now? Who let the system get so lax? Instead of trying to drive people out of town, how about just administering the system the way it was intended and catching the cheaters at the beginning instead of years later and just kicking them off instead of investigating and prosecuting. It seems that would be a more fiscally desirable way to go.

 's picture

Ineligible for assistance for 120 days???

Ineligible for assistance for 120 days??? They should lose it forever. Once a cheat always a cheat (in most cases). It's about time that Lewiston does something. More cities should do the same!

Gary Grenier's picture

I think the suspension of assistance...

...may help to weed out those who need it, but have abused it, from those who are flat out frauds. I think this is a good start.

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