More charges to come in Lewiston welfare fraud investigation

LEWISTON — The indictment of five people on charges of welfare fraud Wednesday was only the tip of the iceberg, Lewiston's police chief said Thursday.

Chief Michael Bussiere said the investigation has been under way for more than a year and there is plenty of work to be done.

"It's not just a matter of welfare fraud," the chief said. "A lot of that money is being used to purchase drugs. It's taking resources away from people who really need the help. This is money that's generated from taxes and earmarked to help those who need it. This kind of abuse doesn't sit well with people."

Four Lewiston men and a Waterford woman were charged Wednesday with scheming to defraud the state welfare system. In a grand jury indictment, the five were accused of buying and selling electronic benefit cards — so-called EBTs — that had been issued to them through the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

According to Bussiere, swindlers buying and selling EBT cards is nothing new. It's just one way of many to abuse the system.

The indictments Wednesday generated great debate, on the Sun Journal website and elsewhere. As is usually the case, people argue over the extent of the problem and what should be done.

"Depending on who you talk to," Bussiere said, "it's either an insignificant, minor problem or it's out of control. The fact is, it's probably neither. It's somewhere in between. The problem is significant enough that it demands the attention of law enforcement."

And not only cops. Police are joined by investigators from the Attorney General's Office, DHHS and several of the state offices of General Assistance.

Bussiere did not say when or how many more charges are likely, but he did stress that others will be charged and then more after that.

"This investigation didn't start this week," the chief said. "It's been going on for a year and a half. There will be more charges coming down the road."

Police and the various agents are also not limiting their attention to the people who defraud the system. The abuse is more dynamic than that, Bussiere said. Some people are buying EBT cards and providing drugs in exchange for the benefits.

In previous years, the problem of food stamps being used as currency on the street was well-known. Now that the system has been modified, so too have the methods.

"These people," Bussiere said, "always find a way to abuse the system."

With EBT cards, people abusing the system have access to cash instead of food stamps. Each welfare recipient is issued one card and the benefits are replenished at the beginning of the month.

"It's not uncommon, when we make drug-related arrests, to find a suspect in possession of more than one EBT card," said Maine Drug Enforcement Agency Supervisor Matt Cashman.

Charged with welfare fraud Wednesday were Katherine M. Pike, 40, of Waterford; David M. Stain, 46; Manny Souza, 20; Christopher S. Frazer, 43; and Robert W. Baylor, 34, all of Lewiston.

mlaflamme@sunjournal.com

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Comments

FRANK EARLEY's picture

I know this will ruffle a few feathers

First of all let me make perfectly clear, I feel that food stamp fraud is akin to stealing from all of us one way or another. I personally reported a "family", who were combining thier numerouse food stamps together. I reported this in person ,on Main St. They were bying more beer and cigaretts than I coul afford and I was working.Nothing was ever done about it and most of them are dead now. That was thirty years ago so you must know this is nothing new. I detest any kind of stealing, especially from folks who really need the help.
Thats not why I'm writing today. I just found out in my e-mail that I'm an independant. I caught hell for it to. I want to set the record strait once and for all. I am not an independant, I'm not a democrat, and I'm not a republican. I hate them all, I'm an equal opertunity don't give a shit. So please don't unfairly affiliate me with any group. Thank you. I can't wait to see the crap I catch for this one.

Jennifer Chretien's picture

I hope they catch more of the

I hope they catch more of the people who are abusing the system like this. Not only does it take away from those who really need it, it also makes those who need it look bad. The actions of some can cause people to assume that everyone is the same. As someone who receives food stamps and Mainecare due to a disability, I really get angry because I get looked down on because some people misuse or lie to to get benefits they don't really qualify for. I have been able to work part time and therefore I am a taxpayer, I realize how limited the money for these programs is and I appreciate that I have them. Without my Mainecare I wouldn't have access to some of the services that have helped my improve my condition and allowed me to start working again. Keep up the good work we need to continue to stop this fraud of the system so we can help those who really need it.

Linda Sherwood's picture

Crackdown on Deadbeat Dads?

How about a crackdown on Deadbeat Dads (okay, parents) who are thousands of dollars and years behind on child support who at Christmas time have all kinds of money for Playstations and video games for the kids? Certainly those items are not necessities. One particular father I know realizes that the children will be provided with medical coverage through Mainecare, and therefore has never made any attempt to acquire insurance for his children. But, he is the first one to insist the children be taken to the doctor or have medical testing for things he has diagnosed (with no medical training)by reading information over the Internet - full well knowing he will not contribute a dime.

This is the same man who complains about having his children for a weekend because it costs him an extra $50 for groceries, yet has absolutely no qualm about the custodial parent needing Food Stamp assistance to feed the children on a regular basis because her income does not make ends meet without the regular child support.

Those who complain about people on welfare are not looking deep enough at the cause, which many times might just be the many deadbeat parents out there who shirk their responsibilities.

 's picture

crackdown

Or what about those dads who pay when they feel like it but when DHS catches up with him through his job, right before they garnish his paycheck he quits his job. He's remarried and has another daughter and two step kids but doesn't acknowledge his first born daughter. So there are three kids getting support form thier biological dad and thier step dad, while his oldest daughter gets nothing. That's not right. If their are other kids in the mix they should make sure the biological dad pays for all of them not just the ones he lives with. I go without so my daughter doesn't. It's hard to catch him because he lives out of state.

Joe Morin's picture

Agreed

Lets also get the young ladies who have multiple children with multiple men and live off of the child support and state aid and never get jobs to act right too. This isn't against your post it is in addition to your suggestion.

Linda Sherwood's picture

Young Ladies and Multiple Children

Though I definitely agree, we are beating a dead horse with this one as that is a fact about welfare reform that has been tossed around many times, with great truth to it. My point was to attempt to steer the conversation into the direction of looking at other causes for welfare need as well as welfare fraud. As with any reform, there are many reasons to indicate the need. In this case, what is really being done to go after the deadbeat parents who leave the custodial parent and the children in need? Let's think about this. I'm talking about normal working families where one parent decides they want out and the divorce system that too easily lets that partner in the relationship go, full well knowing that the custodial parent may end up needing assistance from the state in order to raise the children. But the deadbeat parent can buy new vehicles, and electronic toys and games for the kids to enjoy when they are with him, yet he makes no attempt to cover the children's health care or living needs, only paying child support payments at a level that keeps the state from removing his license.

I will admit that I am one of the parents who have needed the help. It is because of the caring support of family and friends and concerned staff in the Auburn school system that I was emotionally able to raise five children alone. State and federal programs that assisted us financially allowed me the opportunity to complete my bachelor's degree, which I just finished in December 2011 - with honors. And it is my goal to find a job that will allow me to give back to society, and work in some capacity toward welfare reform. Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater...there are abusers of the system, but even more in genuine need that simply need a hand-up. Rather then find ways to criticize and condemn, lets find solutions.

Mike Lachance's picture

Deadbeat dads are every bit

Deadbeat dads are every bit as lame as deadbeat moms (and ive seen many of both)... its a separate problem from this EBT fraud issue however. But Maine is actually one of the tougher states when it comes to enforcing child support laws.

 's picture

fraud

Actually texas is tougher than maine. There is a website i think it's called deadbeats and it shows men and woman who have not paid child support. They can be behind for as little as 500.00 and they get their licenses revoked and go to jail. Of course with no income because they are in jail, the custodial parent doesn't get anything because the noncustodial isn't making any money. I think that deadbeats shouldn't get any kind of assistance, loans, food, housing or stuff like that until they are caught up with child support.

Mark Elliott's picture

Not to say we don't need

Not to say we don't need "deadbeat laws" however, some of them can be counterproductive! I know someone, in Maine, that was out of his career due to an accident injury, had to take a lower paying job and paid as much as he possibly could to the state for child support but could not make exactly the full amount. They eventually pulled his license causing him to lose his job. Not long after, put a lien on everything he owned and even possessed some of his property with the intention of auctioning it off. I have to ask myself, if I were in his shoes, would I want to give up after that? Fortunately, after a couple years he got his retroactive disability payments and caught everything up with the state but what a circus that can be......what a way to really tear someone down when they are doing their best.

The sad thing is, if he were still married to the mother, the state would have picked up the difference without any problem.

Linda Sherwood's picture

Re: Not to say we don't need

Well said, Mark, and exactly the point of why we need welfare reform and a reform of deadbeat laws. It is sad stories like you described that make many of us shake our heads and question how the action of the state helped the situation at all - in the case you described, it only made things worse.

In the cases described in the article about EBT fraud, it is only one small piece of the puzzle. Although I have been helped through the system as a single mother, I still strongly agree that there is great need for welfare reform; an overhaul reform of the entire system.

 's picture

fraud

Thats' also where he should have had the state send something to the mother stating he was taking a lower paying job. if the mother had any common sense she would have realized he was doing his best. I'd rather have the dad in my daughter's life than the money anyway. but the money really helps. If he were in his daughters life and told me all he could send was 50.00 I'd be ok with that. But he doesn't even answer my letters.

 's picture

deadbeat moms are out there too

it's not just deadbeat dads. i work with 2 men who have full custody of their children and don't receive a penny of child support from the "mothers". the state won't even go after them. one of the guys is still expected to provide spousal support for his ex. hows that for a great system?

Linda Sherwood's picture

Re: deadbeat moms out there

Allisa, you are right about deadbeat moms. It is the entire system that needs to be looked at with a microscope. When my ex left and dragged the divorce on for over 2 years, he ended up getting an "equity" payment from me, although my mother financed the mortgage to get us a house before the ex would have us homeless and he had only lived in the house for less then 2 years. I had been a stay at home mother and had helped him to establish his own handyman business (because he kept getting fired from his other jobs). At any rate, it is an inequitable system with men and women who know how to play the game.

Mark Elliott's picture

the system is broken and

the system is broken and fixing it is going to anger some people. Get ready for the media circus.

Mark Elliott's picture

That's a broken system!

That's a broken system!

 's picture

And the Dems tell LePage the system isn't broke

Just a thought: Even a Sam's Club card has your picture on it. I know the Dems will say it's too costly, inconvenient, and stigmatizing but if a little old lady at customer service can whip out a picture ID in 30 seconds with a scanner it just might be worth looking into.

 's picture

fraud

How can it be too costly? We all have Id's dont we? Those who don't drive need a picture id to cash thier checks. So why is it too expesive. Why can't they take it out of the benifits one time and get everyone a picture on their card. Or make the EBT user sign their name on a paper. That way it can be double checked against the owner .

Jennifer Chretien's picture

I think the picture on the

I think the picture on the food stamp card is worth looking into. Honestly as far as it being stigmatizing, most people know what the food stamp card looks like and look critically at what you purchase with it to begin with how is my picture on it going to make it any worse? The only real problem I can see with the picture is that there are people who are home bound or if someone is ill they have a family member or a friend/neighbor shop for them but I'm sure something can be figured out for that. It will have a expense initially but it may well save a lot in the long term.

Mike Lachance's picture

No, No, Jen, this will

No, No, Jen, this will disenfranchise the poor who are unable to have a photo taken of them because of thier life-stituation..... (sarcasm)...

Seriously, today photo ID's are easy, cheap and FAST, and the State could implement this with very little effort of money. If BJ's can do it at a cash register in 1 minute, the State could do it nearly as easy.

 's picture

fraud

Better than my previous post, why doesn't the state require you to show your picture id when you use the ebt card. Those who are home bound and have someone else shopping for them ought to have that person registered as the authorized pick up person and have that person show id. That will nip that in the bud. You have to do that with wic. You need the book that wic checks come in and you have to sign the checks. They are not transferable either. If you are not on the card as the authorized person you can't get the items. I've always had to show id whn I was on wic. it doesn't cost anything either.

Mark Elliott's picture

Probably for the same reasons

Probably for the same reasons liberals don't want us to have to show our IDs to vote......no real reason at all.

Joe Morin's picture

Because

..It's not about reality, only perception. The only defense between them and the barbarians on the other side of the gate... laughable

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