23 charged in Orange County welfare fraud sweep

Orange County officials announced on Wednesday that 23 people have been charged with felonies in the latest public benefits fraud sweep.

Two defendants are wanted on warrants and the others were arrested over the past week, officials said.

The defendants were charged with improperly collecting a total of $220,572 benefits from the Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), child-care benefits, Temporary Assistance and Medicaid benefits, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

The investigation was done by the county’s Department of Social Services Special Investigations Unit, sheriff’s investigators and the district attorney’s office. District attorney’s investigators interviewed each person before charges were filed, said District Attorney David Hoovler.

Hoovler and Sheriff Carl DuBois said this latest enforcement roundup brings the total number of public assistance fraud defendants since Hoovler began these sweeps in June 2014 to 185, representing $1.8 million in public benefits collected to which the recipients weren’t entitled.

Since 2014, officials said, recipients charged with fraud have paid back $529,079 in improperly-collected benefits. The county has also recouped $214,201 from recipients who repaid the funds voluntarily, without any charges being filed.

“The over one-half million dollars that has been recovered as a result of these enforcement actions can be used to provide public assistance to those who truly need it,” Hoovler said in a prepared statement.

Hoovler said defendants may be offered pleas to less-serious charges if circumstances warrant it, but all will be required to repay the funds.

“Public benefits programs are designed to help the truly needy, and to ensure that money remains available to help those in need,” Hoovler said. “Fraud in these programs simply cannot be tolerated.”

In one case, prosecutors said, Prisca LaPlante, 52, of Otisville falsely certified that her father, Saint Martin Davilmer, 84, of Haiti, lived with her so he could illegally collect $19,673 in benefits. Davilmer traveled to Orange County to recertify for benefits, prosecutors said.

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