AUBURN — Prosecutors are appealing to the state’s highest court a trial court order dismissing more than a dozen welfare fraud charges against a Lewiston man.

Assistant Attorneys General Darcy Mitchell and Greg Bernstein filed notice Wednesday in Androscoggin County Superior Court that they intend to take their case to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in Portland.

They had filed a motion with the lower court two weeks ago seeking reconsideration of Judge Susan Oram’s order dismissing 13 charges of theft, forgery and unsworn falsification against Abdi Hassan, 47. But Oram had rejected that motion.

Oram’s dismissal stems from Mitchell’s discovery during a pretrial interview with a former Maine Department of Health and Human Services worker who disclosed that applications for welfare benefits in Hassan’s case may have been improperly filled out by several caseworkers at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. That disclosure came just days before Hassan’s trial, whose starting date had been continued several times.

In an email from Mitchell to Hassan’s attorney, James Howaniec, she 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.”

Two DHHS caseworkers referenced by Mitchell in her email no longer are employed by that agency, according to an agency spokeswoman.

After learning of the possible DHHS document irregularities, Howaniec had filed a motion to continue Hassan’s case at least a month or dismiss the charges.

In her ruling dated May 14, 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. Her action, which means the state can’t recharge Hassan on those 13 DHHS-related charges, was taken “as a sanction for the state’s violation of its discovery obligations,” she wrote.

In her motion for reconsideration, Mitchell argued that only two of 72 documents in the case “purportedly containing defendant Hassan’s signature may have been completed by a DHHS employee.” Three of the documents “have been identified as having potential issues with their veracity,” she wrote.

“The court indicated that the possibility that this document could have been improperly prepared … ‘calls into question the integrity or reliability of the documentation and witnesses as to all the counts in the (Androscoggin County grand jury) indictment related to the (Maine) Department of Health and Human Services,” Mitchell wrote, quoting Oram’s order dismissing the 13 charges.

Mitchell further quoted from Judge Oram’s order that she “does not know how many of these documents purport to contain defendant’s signature, how many appear to have been prepared, signed or reviewed by DHHS employees and how many of the remaining documents are devoid of any suspect elements.”

Mitchell said she had planned to call at trial 22 current and former DHHS workers, including Bailey. Included in her motion were recent interviews with DHHS workers who handled Hassan’s paperwork.

“The workers generally indicated that they would not sign a document for a client and are not aware of that being done,” Mitchell wrote. “One worker indicated that if she did sign a form for a client, it would read ‘her name for client’s name.'”

Mitchell took issue with Oram’s ruling, writing in her motion that, “this court incorrectly grafts onto the prosecution’s (and state’s) responsibilities a duty to continually conduct an investigation.”

She went on to write that the Maine Supreme Judicial Court “recognized that new information discovered in witness interviews and trial prep sessions and disclosed does not constitute a discovery violation.”

On Wednesday, Mitchell and Bernstein included in their notice of appeal a written approval from Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, required any time state prosecutors file an appeal from the Superior Court to the state’s high court sitting as the law court.

Prosecutors had three weeks from Oram’s order to file an appeal.

Howaniec responded to the state’s appeal Thursday:

“We are confident that the Maine Supreme Court will uphold Judge Oram’s well-reasoned decision,” he wrote in a prepared statement. “This prosecution has been going on for four years and has cost the state tens of thousands of dollars. It is my hope that, at some point, the prosecutors will investigate the apparent irregularities at DHHS with the same zeal that they seem to have toward convicting this Lewiston couple that was applying for food and housing for their children.”

Before the charges against Hassan were dismissed by the judge, the mother of his five children, Amina Ege, 45, of Lewiston pleaded to two misdemeanor charges in connection with Hassan’s case.

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