Dozens of people across three counties are now behind bars. A number of law enforcement agencies from Onondaga, Oswego and Oneida counties rounded up people accused of welfare fraud. Our Katie Gibas went along for the raid in Onondaga County.
ONONDAGA COUNTY, N.Y. -- Dozens of people in Onondaga County woke up to police pounding on their doors Thursday morning. Just before day break, authorities arrested 43 people in Onondaga County for welfare fraud. Another 11 are still at large.
"Every time we do one of these, we try to pull in as many cases as we can without clogging up the court system. And actually this is a pretty big one with that amount of people," said Mark Wierzbicki, an Investigations Coordinator for the Onondaga County Department of Social Services.
Investigators say those arrested ripped off the system for public assistance, health care and food stamps by lying on forms about money they made or the earnings of other household members. Authorities say the total fraud is worth about $727,224.30 of Onondaga County taxpayer money.
"Anytime that you're doing programs and giving away money, there's always people who don't qualify, they're going to try to do something to try to make themselves eligible to get that benefit or lie about something to get that benefit," said Wierzbicki. "This is not just a local problem. This is a national problem, a state problem, and anytime we're paying out benefits to people who aren't entitled to it, we're taking away from benefits from people who really deserve them and need the benefits.”
Investigators say Thursday's roundup will make a dent in the problem in the Central New York area. But they do this every year, and they say overall, they're not seeing a decrease in the number of crimes.
"It's pretty much steady. It's been this kind of situation for the several years we've been doing this with the District Attorney's office," said Wierzbicki.
Everyone arrested is charged with at least one felony, and some as many as 20. Investigators say all the suspects were given plenty of chances throughout the investigation to settle the fraud they're accused of.
Fraud investigators say through they year they work with the District Attorney's office to prosecute cases. They resolve about 500 every year before they get to the point of Thursday's welfare fraud raid.