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.