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21 charged in welfare fraud sweep

July 24, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
A big welfare sweep in Los Angeles County leads to the arrest of 12 people, and charges filed against 21 others.Fraud investigators used a surveillance video as a key piece of evidence against one of the suspects. Kim Johnson was behind the wheel of a $40,000 Cadillac Escalade in the video. However, Johnson claimed to be disabled and in need of 24 hour care. She also claimed she was poor.

In the surveillance video, Johnson pulls up to a beauty supply store that she owns. Investigators for the District Attorney's office also say Johnson and two partners bought a house. Together they are accused of a $417,000 rip-off.

"We are here to announce the arrest of 12 men and women accused of defrauding taxpayers out of more than $2 million in public assistance funds," said Steve Cooley, Los Angeles County District Attorney.

The suspects all received funds through In Home Supportive Services, or IHSS. The program provides care for low-income, elderly and disabled citizens. However, the suspects discovered a gap in the system. They used fake identification and received benefits under each alias.

Mary Alvarez is named as a "quadruple-dipper". She acted as a care provider for herself, several times. Her husband was in the United States with a false passport.

"Both charged. And spent most of their hundreds of thousands of dollars gambling at local casinos," said Cooley.

IHSS is a $1.6 billion dollar program. D.A. Steve Cooley says a new law is needed to secure it.

"Had the simple process of fingerprinting and photographing been in place, most of the loss attributed to these defendants could've been avoided," said Cooley.

Background checks and cross-referencing would also flag violent criminals. Investigators funds were aiding fugitives.

"One provider was wanted on an arrest warrant for murder. And a second provider, with a prior conviction for robbery," said Cooley.

Kim Johnson, the aid recipient in the Escalade, she could face a maximum 12 years in prison.

 

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