Amina Ege, 45, of Lewiston sits with her defense attorney, Adam Sherman, in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn on Friday. She pleaded guilty to welfare fraud three days before her trial was set to start.

AUBURN — A Lewiston woman admitted to welfare fraud charges Friday, three days before her trial was set to start.

Amina Ege, 45, of 105 Shawmut St. pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges. One of those, theft by deception, carries a maximum penalty of 364 days in jail. Each of the others, possession of forgery devices, is punishable by up to six months in jail.

Ege’s case was continued for sentencing.

Sitting with a Somali interpreter who translated English into her native language, Ege pleaded guilty to having stolen more than $500 from Maine and the federal government in benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and Additional Support for People in Retraining program from August 2004 to September 2013.

Ege gave the false impression she hadn’t been living with Abdi Hassan, 47, that he wasn’t the father of her children and that he hadn’t been providing financial support to the household, Judge Susan Oram read from the charging document in Androscoggin County Superior Court.

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Ege also pleaded guilty to having forgery devices, apparatuses or equipment on June 5 and Nov. 30, 2012.

All other counts on which Ege was indicted by an Androscoggin County grand jury are expected to be dismissed at her sentencing hearing, Assistant Attorney General Darcy Mitchell said.

Had Ege gone to trial on the indictment charges and been found guilty on any of those counts — including any misdemeanor — that alleged the theft of $10,000 or more, she would face the possibility of mandatory detention and deportation by immigration officials and could be barred from re-entry into the United States, defense attorney Adam Sherman told the court.

“I told her that the plea agreement she and the state have come to today is not an absolute protection to deportation, but the way we’ve structured this plea, I believe, in consultation with the immigration attorney, gives her a reasonable legal argument that if she is detained by immigration authorities and starts to go through the immigration deportation process, she has the color of a legal argument to fight deportation and stay in the United States,” Sherman said.

As part of the plea agreement, Ege paid $3,000 in restitution in the form of a bank check that Sherman handed to prosecutors.

Ege and Hassan, her co-defendant, had been scheduled to start a jury trial on Monday. The trial had been expected to last more than three weeks. Jury selection took three days to complete earlier this week, with as many as seven interpreters working in the courtroom on at least one of those days. Several of the interpreters were flown in from other states, including Ohio and Utah.

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Oram agreed Friday to push back the start of the trial to Thursday to give prosecutors and Hassan’s defense team a chance to regroup after Ege’s plea.

Defense attorney James Howaniec sought a continuance of the trial, arguing it was “fundamentally unfair” to proceed with a jury that had been picked for two defendants. His trial strategy in defending a single defendant will be different from that of defending a co-defendant, Howaniec said. He said he would need to instruct his private investigator to research information surrounding the plea agreement Ege reached Friday with prosecutors.

Mitchell said the facts of the case against Hassan haven’t changed.

He faces multiple felony and misdemeanor charges stemming from alleged welfare fraud.

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Amina Ege, 45, of 105 Shawmut St., Lewiston, sits in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn on Friday. She pleaded guilty to welfare fraud three days before her trial was set to start.


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