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"DSS makes every effort to root out fraud and abuse within our system," Nichols said. "Through a standard review process, our fraud and recovery unit conducted thorough investigations to ensure that funds were provided to those who were truly in need of assistance and met program qualifications."
Twenty-two individuals were suspected of fraud involving more than their own households, with three of those individuals having been fully prosecuted in criminal court, convicted and sentenced. Six additional arrests have been made, and charges have been filed in a seventh case.
Investigations are ongoing in nine of those 22 cases and have resulted in sixteen individuals either resigning, retiring or were terminated to date.
"Fraudulent activity is unacceptable, and we will take all actions necessary to end the abuse, recover funds and prosecute individuals to the fullest extent of the law," Nichols said.
An additional 63 DSS employees were suspected of fraud involving only their household. To date, 41 individuals have signed waivers of disqualification or received a ruling of intentional program violation by an administrative law judge through an administrative disqualification hearing.
The remaining 22 cases of suspected intentional program violations are still in process. They will be finalized when individuals sign disqualification waivers or receive rulings following administrative hearings.
The losses identified in the review process totaled $637,702.54, of which $414,476.02 has been collected so far. Based on federal regulations, in cases of inadvertent or agency error, losses less than $250 are not subject to collection.
DSS' Fraud and Recovery Section (FRS) is the investigative body authorized by state law to conduct investigations into fraud, waste and abuse in public assistance and food stamp programs and to seek criminal prosecutions in state and federal court when necessary. The unit also is responsible for recovering any ineligible benefits paid to recipients and providers due to fraud or non-fraud reasons.
In addition to the disaster food stamp program review, FRS received 789 cases and completed 958 investigations in State Fiscal Year 2008-2009 alone. Investigations begin with allegations by ordinary citizens, agency personnel, law enforcement officials and others. FRS staff is responsible for investigating recipients, personnel, or others who are allegedly responsible for violations such as allegations of unreported income, Child Care fraud, Electronic Benefits Transfer trafficking and unreported resources.
Last year, FRS identified losses of more than $5 million and recovered more than $3 million. Of the investigations completed, 758 cases were disqualified from public assistance roles, 173 cases were referred for prosecution and 66 cases were prosecuted.
To report suspected illegal receipt of public assistance benefits or illegal use of an EBT card, call the toll-free Public Assistance Fraud Hotline at 1-800-256-3150. To learn more, visit www.dss.louisiana.gov/reportfraud.