AUBURN — Documents submitted as evidence in a welfare fraud case may have been forged by caseworkers at the Maine Department of Heath and Human Services, the defendant’s attorney said. 

Abdi Hassan, 47, of Lewiston, faces multiple felony and misdemeanor charges stemming from alleged welfare fraud.

His attorney, James Howaniec, made a motion to dismiss the case during a Friday hearing, and the trial scheduled to start in Androscoggin County Superior Court next week has been delayed by at least one day in light of the new information. 

Howaniec also urged the Maine attorney general to investigate the possibility of a larger problem at DHHS. 

“I shudder to think about the extent in which this may be going on in other cases,” he said during the hearing. 

The potential issues pertain to three exhibits in the prosecution’s evidence, which includes hundreds of documents. 

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Darcy Mitchell, an assistant attorney general, argued that the motion to dismiss the case should not be granted without knowing more about the DHHS documents and what happened.

While she called the information a “troubling possibility,” she said it would be “premature” to say any employee forged a signature.

She told Judge Susan Oram during the hearing that the prosecution discovered the issue while speaking Thursday with witness Dawna Bailey, a former DHHS caseworker, about the evidence. Bailey told Mitchell that it’s possible that another caseworker, Mary Coffin, may have completed a form bearing the defendant’s name “in its entirety.” 

She also said she didn’t recognize the handwriting on another document, but that it also may have been Coffin’s. 

Mitchell said it may have been done in an effort to not “hold up” benefit payments to clients. 

“At this point, we don’t really know what happened,” she said. 

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Judge Oram did not rule on the defense’s motion by the end of the day Friday, meaning the jury was called off for Monday. 

Hassan was not present during the hearing Friday because an adequate interpreter was not available on short notice.  

Howaniec said lax oversight in processing applications at DHHS has led to the issue, which he further described as “some level of fudging welfare documents, by workers who had their fingers all over this case.”

He commended the prosecutors for disclosing the new information as soon as it came to light, but also said the information “should have been found four years ago” during the discovery portion of the pretrial process. 

Asked by Oram why the information is just coming to light so soon before the trial was set to begin, Mitchell said the prosecution wanted to “tie up loose ends” before the trial. 

Howaniec said there could be a “completely innocent explanation” for the documents in question, but it raises questions about all of the evidence in the case, which at least warrants a continuance. 

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Mitchell said it’s possible Hassan was present in the room when the documents were signed by caseworkers.

“To dismiss a serious case like this one because a witness lacking any firsthand knowledge said something inappropriate could have happened is inappropriate,” she said.  

She said the state would agree not to use the exhibits in question during the trial if a continuance were issued. 

Oram told counsel she would need time to think about the pending motions. 

Last week, Amina Ege, a co-defendant in the case, pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor welfare fraud charges. Hassan and Ege were previously in a relationship and have several children together.

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Defense attorney James Howaniec, left, speaks during a hearing Friday on a welfare fraud case scheduled to begin next week in Androscoggin County Superior Court. Howaniec submitted a motion to dismiss the case after it was found that documents included as evidence may have been forged. 


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