Just Desserts in the Desert

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While we publish yet another case of foolish fraudsters, let’s take a moment to applaud the tipsters who turn them in. A press release published by the Arizona Attorney General’s office details how a married couple’s fraudulent use of food stamps was uncovered after an anonymous tipster alerted authorities.

To sidestep the requirements for food stamp eligibility, the Phoenix couple submitted applications that misrepresented their total income, falsely claiming that the wife resided separately from her husband and children because the amount of her earnings would have made them ineligible. (This all sounds like it would be very confusing for their children..”) They collected more than $94,000 in food stamps before someone blew the whistle on their scheme.

An investigation by the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) and its Office of Inspector General collected a slew of evidence that exposed the couple’s fraud, including statements from the couple’s neighbors and coworkers, along with social media photos of the family vacationing at SeaWorld and Legoland. (That darn double-edged social media sword!)

Eventually, the husband admitted his wrongdoings, and he and his wife each pleaded guilty to two counts of unlawful use of food stamps and one count of fraudulent schemes and artifices.

Both were sentenced to six months in prison and are jointly and severally liable for nearly $100,000 in restitution. Of that amount, $23,856 must be repaid to the DES and $70,182 must be repaid to the state Medicaid agency. The court allowed them to serve their sentences at separate times so that they could take turns caring for their children (which, ironically, is what they lied about doing in the first place.)

Source: Today’s ”Fraud of the Day” is based on, ”Phoenix Couple Sentenced for Unlawful Use of Food Stamps,” a press release published by the Arizona Attorney General’s office on February 8, 2016.

In 2010, George Cortez applied for food stamps and AHCCCS benefits for himself and his two children. In the applications, he claimed that his wife, Robin, lived in a separate residence, so her income was not used to determine eligibility for benefits. An investigation revealed that they lived in the same home and the wife’s income made the family ineligible for benefits.

The couple is liable for $94,038.95. George Cortez was remanded into custody after his sentencing. Robin Cortez will also serve 6 months in jail. The court staggered the jail terms so that each parent could care for the children while the other is in jail.

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Larry Benson, Senior Director of Strategic Alliances, LexisNexis Risk Solutions - Government

Larry Benson is responsible for developing strategic partnerships and solutions for the government vertical. His expertise focuses on how government programs are defrauded by criminal groups, and the approaches necessary to prevent them from succeeding.

Mr. Benson has 30 years of experience in sales and business development. Before joining LexisNexis® Risk Solutions, he spent 12 years founding and managing two software technology startups. During the 1990s he spent 10 years as a Regional Director helping to grow a New England-based technology company from 300 employees to 7,000. He started his career with Martin Marietta Aerospace working on laser guided weapons and day/night vision systems.

A sought-after speaker and accomplished writer, Mr. Benson is the principal author of “Fraud of the Day,” a website dedicated to educating government officials about how criminals are defrauding government programs. He has co-authored WTF? Where’s the Fraud? How to Unmask and Stop Identity Fraud’s Drain on Our Government, and Data Personified, How Fraud is Changing the Meaning of Identity.

Benson holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Albright College, and earned two graduate degrees – a Master of Business Administration from Florida Institute of Technology, and a Master of Science in Engineering from Lehigh University.