Moffat County Department of Social Services addresses welfare fraud

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"People will think we won’t know or that they’re not hurting anyone. It really does hurt everybody and I think it helps to get the community and public aware of that.”

Moffat County Department of Social Services Self Sufficience Supervisor Laura Willems about the impact of welfare fraud.

Most would like to believe that people are, at their core, honest and good. But there’s always the few who will take advantage of a system meant to benefit those who truly need it.

For the Moffat County Social Services Department, welfare fraud is happening more frequently than it would like to see.

Investigating 18 fraud cases in the past two years, and filing seven of those cases with the district attorney, welfare fraud is not something the department takes lightly, self-sufficience supervisor Laura Willems said.

“Those committing fraud aren’t necessarily misreporting,” Willems said. “It’s failing to report income. The funds that are available out there are for households who meet the criteria and are eligible.”

Willems said the misuse of the funds results in impacts on those who receive them as well as residents and taxpayers. The fraud also eats up the resources of the social services department and law enforcement agencies.

According to a news release from the District Attorney’s Office, as recently as November, Craig resident Amy Schmedeke, 41, was charged with theft in connection with alleged food assistance fraud from the Moffat County Department of Social Services.

Charged with one count of theft of $1,000 to $20,000, a Class 4 felony, and one count of forgery, a Class 5 felony, the news release stated Schmedeke allegedly defrauded the department of social services by failing to accurately report her household income when applying for and receiving food assistance benefits.

If convicted, Schmedeke could face two to six years in prison for the theft charge and one to three years for the forgery charge.

Although Schmedeke's case is the most recent, it's hardly the only one.

Willems said her department has recovered around $22,000 in the last year through fraud cases.

“We could speculate on a lot of reasons why,” Willems said. “I don’t really have a good answer to that. People will think we won’t know or that they’re not hurting anyone. It really does hurt everybody and I think it helps to get the community and public aware of that.”

Receiving many fraud reports throughout the year, Willems said each report is taken seriously and investigated.

Willems said if anyone wants to report a case, they can feel confident contacting the social services department and knowing their report will be investigated.

For confidentially reasons, the department is unable to provide information back on investigations.

Contact the department of social services at 970-824-8282 to report welfare fraud.

Willems said she hopes she sees cases of fraud decline as awareness spreads.

“Hopefully that will be a deterrent,” Willems said.

Darian Warden can be reached at 970-875-1793 or dwarden@craigdailypress.com

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