AUBURN — In a stunning reversal, a judge ordered the dismissal of more than a dozen welfare fraud charges against a Lewiston man after prosecutors raised questions about documents possibly forged by state caseworkers.

Applications for welfare benefits in the case may have been improperly filled out by several caseworkers at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, according to a weekend ruling by Judge Susan Oram.

That information was discovered late last week by prosecutors conducting a pretrial interview with a former DHHS worker; prosecutors quickly shared it with defense attorneys.

“As a result of that interview, the (assistant attorney general) learned, for the first time, that there might be significant irregularities in the way DHHS processed and handled some or all of defendant’s claims for benefits,” Oram wrote in her order.

Attorneys for Abdi Hassan, 47, of Lewiston filed motions on Thursday to dismiss all 15 counts in a 2013 Androscoggin County grand jury indictment or continue the trial for at least a month. A hearing on those motions was held Friday. Charges against Hassan included multiple felony and misdemeanor counts of theft, forgery and unsworn falsification.

In her ruling dated May 14, two days after the hearing, Oram wrote that the case had “been pending for far too long” and that the only remedy to the new revelations other than a continuance was dismissal of the charges related to DHHS documents.

Oram’s action, which means the state can’t recharge Hassan, was taken “as a sanction for the state’s violation of its discovery obligations,” she wrote.

“There is no suggestion that the late disclosure of this information is the result of any bad faith or improper effort to conceal information on the part of the (assistant attorneys general) involved in the this case,” Oram wrote. “Nevertheless, both the nature of the information and the timing of the disclosure cause the court grave concern.”

Only two of the 15 counts naming Hassan remain. He is expected to go to trial on a felony count of theft by deception involving subsidies from Lewiston Housing Authority and a felony count of negotiating a worthless instrument in connection with writing bad checks, Oram ruled.

But that trial, scheduled to start Monday, was postponed for a fourth time after a conference call with the judge and attorneys on both sides.

A spokeswoman for DHHS said Commissioner Mary Mayhew was unable to comment on the allegations of caseworkers’ forged documents and whether she plans to launch an internal investigation because “this is part of an ongoing case.”

Timothy Feeley, special assistant to Attorney General Janet Mills, said his office had no comment on calls by Hassan’s attorneys for a departmentwide DHHS investigation by Mills.

“I shudder to think about the extent in which this may be going on in other cases,” lead defense attorney James Howaniec said during Friday’s hearing.

Amina Ege, 45, of Lewiston, Hassan’s former co-defendant in the case and mother of his children, recently pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor welfare fraud charges. Her case was continued for sentencing.

Her attorney, Adam Sherman, could not be reached Monday for comment on how Oram’s ruling might affect his client’s case.

Assistant Attorney General Darcy Mitchell, who discovered the possible “irregularities” during a pretrial interview, told Oram at Friday’s hearing that while the new information was a “troubling possibility,” it would be “premature” to say any employee forged a signature.

Yet, in her email last week to Howaniec and his co-counsel, Jesse Archer, Mitchell wrote that a former DHHS worker: “indicated that it was possible that Ms. (Mary) Coffin completed the form in its entirety, i.e. also completed the portion of the form bearing Abdi (Hassan) Aideed’s name.” When the former DHHS worker, Dawna Bailey, was asked “if she could ever recall doing that herself, i.e., signing a form for a client, she indicated that she would like to think that if she had ever done it, that she would put her initials next to the name and that she would have gotten the individual’s permission before doing so.”

Bailey told Mitchell that she didn’t recognize the handwriting on another document, but that signature also may have belonged to Coffin.

Mitchell said the completion of applications 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,” Mitchell told Oram on Friday.

Ege was indicted on 18 felony and misdemeanor counts including theft, forgery and unsworn falsification.

On May 5, sitting in Androscoggin County Superior Court 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 Hassan, that he wasn’t the father of her children and that he hadn’t been providing financial support to the household, Oram read from the charging document in Androscoggin County Superior Court.

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 are expected to be dismissed at her sentencing hearing.

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