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Boston — In a fourth quarter report issued today, State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump said examiners within her office’s Bureau of Special Investigations (BSI) found evidence of more than $1.9 million in fraudulently obtained public assistance benefits and services, bringing the Fiscal Year 2013 total to a record setting $6,354,398. The report also details that for the first time BSI has obtained jail sentences for individuals found guilty of food stamp trafficking.
“Public assistance programs are designed to help those who truly need support to feed and care for their families,” said Auditor Bump. “Uncovering fraud through our investigations helps to ensure that these programs are reaching the intended recipients and building public trust in government.”
Auditor Bump said BSI examiners completed 6,858 investigations during the fiscal year, resulting in 915 cases of individuals defrauding the state of food stamps, childcare services, health care benefits, or cash assistance. This total represents a nearly 15 percent increase over the previous year’s record of $5.5 million. In Fiscal Year 2013, MassHealth administered more than $10 billion in member benefits and the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) administered more than $1.8 billion in transitional assistance benefits.
“Our record setting investigative work this year does not necessarily represent a growth in fraud activity, but instead can be attributed to our increasingly vigorous approach to combating fraud,” said Auditor Bump. “By and large the Commonwealth’s public benefits programs work as intended, but no amount of fraud will be tolerated.”
“This shows that our strong program integrity system is working,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services John Polanowicz. “MassHealth and DTA identified the majority of these cases and referred them up for investigation, and we thank the Auditor’s office for taking the next steps. These numbers show that more than 99 percent of benefits are being used as intended to meet basic needs. MassHealth and DTA have both launched aggressive, new program integrity initiatives to stop fraud on the front end and protect benefits for those who truly need them.”
BSI examiners work with DTA, MassHealth, the Attorney General’s Office and other government agencies to document fraudulent activity. BSI investigations lead to both prosecution and recovery of funds.
The report highlights a series of court cases which resulted after a 14-month long joint food stamp trafficking investigation and 2012 raid conducted in Boston’s Chinatown district with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the state Attorney General’s office, and the Boston Police Department. In total, 13 individuals were ordered to pay restitution to the state, 10 were sentenced to serve time in the House of Corrections, and nine received some form of probation or suspended sentence. Since 2012, the Massachusetts Legislature has passed two laws specifically outlawing the buying and selling of food stamp benefits.
While the majority of allegations of public assistance fraud come from MassHealth and the Department of Transitional Assistance, the public can also file a complaint through the BSI fraud hotline at (617) 727-6771 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. All complaints are kept confidential.
Read the BSI Fourth Quarter Report for Fiscal Year 2013.