State Workers Won’t Be Charged In D-SNAP Fraud Case [Hartford Courant]

August 25, 2014

170 Public Employees Disciplined For Filing False Claims

By JENNY WILSON | Hartford Courant

Prosecutors have decided not to file charges in an emergency food stamp fraud case involving nearly 200 state employees who claimed federal benefits in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene.

Three months after the August 2011 storm ravaged Connecticut, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy launched an investigation of state workers and others suspected of fraudulently receiving assistance through the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Program (D-SNAP), which provides one-time benefits to low-income residents who suffer disaster-related expenses. The program offers federal funds but is administered by the state.

Deputy Chief State’s Attorney Leonard Boyle said Friday that his office recently closed the case and decided not to seek prosecution because the dollar amounts for the claims were low, other types of sanctions were available and “resources would be better allocated elsewhere.”

“We always have to assess the demands of cases that come before the office for potential prosecution, the resources that we have that are available to handle those investigations and whether there are other remedies that might address the problem,” Boyle said. He mentioned the scores of state employees who were disciplined after they received benefits for which they were ineligible.

One-hundred-eighty-five state employees were investigated by their respective agencies for D-SNAP fraud, and all but 15 of them received disciplinary sanctions. Only four state employees were fired. Initially, 97 were dismissed, but the majority of them had their employment reinstated through arbitration. Others resigned or retired with full pensions.

Those who were reinstated received unpaid suspensions, but did not lose their benefits or seniority — nor did an additional 53 workers who were suspended.

Linda Yelmini, the state director of labor relations, said that the length of suspension varied based on “level of culpability.” Some workers only misrepresented their income when filling out claims, she said, while others falsified their income level and the amount of money in their bank accounts.

All of the employees who were disciplined paid the state back for the benefits they received, Yelmini said. The claims were in the hundreds of dollars — the program’s maximum benefit of $1,202 was only available for households of eight people. A single person was entitled to up to $200.

Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Malloy, said that “ultimately … it’s up to the state’s attorney’s office to decide whether criminal prosecution is warranted.”

“The governor made it abundantly clear that he would not tolerate the abuse of public money, which is why he took immediate action once this situation was brought to his attention,” Doba said.

A Republican state senator criticized the decision not to prosecute public employees accused of filing fraudulent claims. Sen. Len Fasano, R-Durham, said in a statement that he was “extremely disappointed,” and characterized the result of the investigation as one that “conveys the message that the system is rigged and that state employees are above the law.”

“After all of the time and money spent investigating this matter and pursuing discipline and terminations, to see the vast majority of employees get their jobs back with no repercussions is disheartening,” Fasano said.

As for the non-state employees suspected of fraud, the prosecutor said that to bring charges against those residents, his office would have had to conduct a “fairly extensive financial investigation” to determine whether someone filed a false claim and, again, he said, it came down to the allocation of resources.

“We always, according to state law, direct the greatest resources to violent crime,” Boyle said. “With respect to financial crime, we try to address those cases where there’s a greater loss to the state.”