MALONE - Eleven people were arrested Thursday on charges that they defrauded Franklin County welfare systems of a total of about $30,800.
The county Department of Social Services has been conducting an extensive investigation into alleged fraud related to food stamps, medical assistance, daycare assistance, temporary assistance and Medicaid, according to a press release from county District Attorney Derek Champagne.
That investigation led to 14 DSS clients signing voluntary disqualification agreements, which will stop payments to them and require them to pay back all money owed to the department.
Arrest warrants were issued for the other 11 subjects of the investigation earlier this week. As of 3 p.m. Thursday, seven of those were arrested, two made arrangements to surrender to authorities, and two remain outside Franklin County - in Watertown and Utica.
Other than the two outside of the county, most of the subjects were from Malone, but one was from Dickinson Center and one from Fort Covington.
The charges range from welfare fraud to grand larceny.
Champagne said in the press release that he is worried that he is just scratching the surface of welfare fraud in the county.
"This investigation revealed others who appear to believe social assistance is a way of life and not temporary assistance," Champagne said in the release. "The discovery of fraudulent tax returns associated with this investigation is leading us to even more complex frauds being committed against not only the County but the state and federal government. I urge County residents who know of fraud occurring or of large tax refunds coming to individuals who clearly never paid taxes, to report their suspicions to either the County DSS or our office for additional investigation. Only through a community approach can we stop fraud against all taxpayers."
Champagne said he is in the process of referring a portion of the investigation to the United States Attorney's Office to explore several local federal tax returns uncovered, where people claimed self-employment, paid no income tax and received large refunds for these fraudulent returns.