Gov. Paul LePage’s administration said this week that it has uncovered more than $1 million in alleged theft and fraud this year by people who receive benefits like food stamps and the state’s Medicaid program.
But many such theft allegations haven’t led to criminal charges.
Attorney General Janet Mills, whose office handles fraud by groups who provide state benefits, said she has requested extra help to assist with the caseload. Her spokesman Andrew Roth-Wells said cases can be thousands of pages long, and that in some instances, there aren’t grounds for a criminal case. The office received funding for an additional prosecutor and paralegal to tackle welfare fraud cases, and it said it is now in the process of trying to fill those positions.
So far this year, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services says it has referred 46 cases representing more than $1 million in alleged theft by individuals who receive benefits. The attorney general’s office says it’s filed charges in 19 cases this year representing nearly $430,000 in theft from DHHS and other individuals and state agencies.
In 2016, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services referred 174 cases totaling more than $1.7 million in alleged theft to the attorney general’s office for prosecution. The attorney general’s office said last year it charged 37 cases representing about $966,000 in total theft.
LePage, a Republican, is term-limited from running for governor again, and his second term expires in January 2019. Mills, a Democrat, is running to replace him.
He won his seat on promises of holding individuals accountable for gaming the public assistance system. His administration previously increased the number of welfare fraud investigators from nine to 17 at a cost of about $700,000 a year.
“Those who take advantage of state benefits need to understand that when they claim taxpayer money they are not entitled to, they will be caught and brought to justice,” said Department of Health and Human Services Acting Commissioner Ricker Hamilton.
The department points to recent indictments of a Cherryfield woman who allegedly received extra food assistance after failing to report her correct household income. The department also cited the case of an East Machias woman who allegedly received $57,000 in additional food assistance and MaineCare benefits after failing to accurately report her household composition between 2007 and 2014.
The agency’s fraud investigation and recovery unit also assisted a federal investigation concerning an individual charged with stealing $23,128 in state benefits.