Digging a Deeper Hole

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The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program helps pay for expenses like food, shelter and utilities when times are tough. It is supposed to lend assistance to those who qualify for and deserve financial support during difficult times. An article published in the Portland Press Herald tells the story of a man who abused the system by falsely applying for benefits he did not deserve.

Fraudsters come from all walks of life, but this man’s occupation is unique – a bloodworm digger from the state of Maine. (Just to bring you up to speed, bloodworm harvesting is big business when it comes to sport and recreational fishing. The unsightly worms, which can deliver a venomous bite to predators, can often bring a quarter or more per worm.) Understanding that hundreds or even thousands of worms can be found in a small area, it is sufficient to say that the occupation can be quite lucrative. On the other hand, harsh weather can prevent a bountiful harvest, leaving bloodworm diggers without a sufficient income.

The article states that the blood worm digger applied for Social Security disability payments stating he was unable to work. (He also received approximately $30,500 in food stamps over a three-year period.) The man originally applied for benefits at one Department of Health & Human Services office, but switched to another one after the first office received a tip that the application was incorrect. (It sounds like the DHS did a little bit of digging as well. Did he think they wouldn’t catch up with him?)

Apparently, while the man was working and living with his wife, the family had an income of $47,000. (This would disqualify him from receiving welfare benefits because he had claimed he was unable to work.) Unfortunately, the man dug himself into a deeper hole and continued to misrepresent his household and their income.

The bloodworm digger was sentenced to seven months in jail followed by three years of probation. He also was ordered to pay $16,000 in restitution for the food stamps he fraudulently received. (The loss to the state was approximately $30,500, of which the man’s wife, who also was a bloodworm digger, repaid half. She reported that the other half was her husband’s responsibility.)

This man was certainly an experienced digger. Not only did it sound like he had a fairly lucrative albeit difficult life as a worm digger, he was also pretty good about digging himself into a deeper hole of trouble with the TANF program. Let’s hope he learned his lesson and will dig a little harder to repay the undeserved benefits.

Source: Today’s ”Fraud of the Day” is based on an article titled, ”Whitefield Worm Digger Jailed for Welfare Fraud,” written by Betty Adams and published by the Portland Press Herald on March 31, 2015.

Timothy Peaslee will miss at least the beginning of the worm-digging season while he does time in the Kennebec County jail after he fraudulently received $30,506 in food stamps.

Peaslee, 42, of Whitefield, was sentenced Thursday at a Kennebec County Superior Court hearing held in the Capital Judicial Center. Justice Michaela Murphy ordered him to serve an initial seven months in jail and suspended the remainder of a two-year sentence. He was also placed on probation for three years, and ordered to pay up to $16,000 remaining in restitution for food stamps he received November 2008 until September 2011.

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Larry Benson
Larry Benson is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances for Revenue Discovery and Recovery at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. In this role, Benson is responsible for developing partnerships for the tax and revenue and child support enforcement verticals. He focuses on embedded companies that have a need for third-party analytics to enhance their current offerings.