Last updated: July 17. 2013 5:54PM - 551 Views

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In the first nine months of the fiscal year, the state Department of Health and Human Resources launched investigations involving more than $5.2 million of alleged improperly obtained public assistance benefits.

Marsha Dadisman, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), said in an email that between July 1, 2011 and March 31, 2012, DHHR Investigations and Fraud Management Unit recovered $2.4 million.

The unit has three divisions dealing with fraud and abuse, and employs 39 specialized investigators, Dadisman said.

The front-end fraud unit investigates potentially fraudulent activities in applications for assistance. Chris Nelson, of the DHHR Office of the Inspector General, said, for example, front-end fraud could be if an applicant gives an incorrect figure on their application — whether intentional or not — and the error is caught immediately.

That group completed 924 investigations from July 2011 to March 2012 which were projected to save about $1 million, Dadisman said.

The criminal investigation unit follows up when suspected fraudulent activities appear to rise to a criminal level. This could be someone who is illegally collecting benefits they are not entitled to, Nelson said.

Sixty cases — representing $908,551 in alleged fraud — were presented for prosecution in the same nine-month period, Dadisman said. They received 1,042 felony complaints.

Some of those involve allegations of unreported earnings.

The claims and collection unit handles allegations of improper payments that are to be handled administratively, like an administrative error, Nelson said.

In the nine-month period, they established 3,898 claims against households totaling $3.3 million, Dadisman said.

One welfare fraud case recently made statewide headlines.

Lena Lunsford, of Lewis County, is serving an eight-month federal prison sentence for welfare fraud, according to the Associated Press. Lunsford was accused of selling $114 in credit on her food stamp card for $50 in cash, the report said. Lunsford is the mother of Aliayah Lunsford, who was 3 years old when she disappeared from her family’s home in September.

Dadisman said about 340,994 West Virginians receive assistance from Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and West Virginia WORKS.

Nelson said it is important for people who suspect welfare fraud to report it.

“Welfare fraud affects everyone,” Nelson said. “It affects taxpayers. It affects the integrity of the program. The money could be put to better use.”

Violators can be sentenced to up to five years in prison and could face fines and program disqualification, Dadisman said.

SUSPECTED WELFARE fraud can be reported to the state Department of Health and Human Resources, at 304-558-1970.

(c) 2012 The Dominion Post (Morgantown, W.Va.)

Visit The Dominion Post (Morgantown, W.Va.) at www.dominionpost.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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