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Nassau recovers more than $10 million in fraudulent welfare, Medicaid claims

Nassau's Department of Social Services recovered $10 million from welfare recipients and service providers who bilked the system last year, according to the department's 2013 annual report released this week.

In a 44-page report, the department notes that it recouped $9.3 million through property and estate liens and $779,000 in restitution payments recovered by the Nassau district attorney's office.

The report states the county also saved $1.7 million by detecting Medicaid fraud and stopping any payments to those recipients.

"My administration remains committed to rooting out and referring for prosecution those that try to cheat the system to take money away from the neediest of our citizens," said Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano.

Last year the department's Office of Investigations, staffed by 22 investigators, referred 45 cases of suspected fraud to the Nassau County district attorney's office for criminal fraud prosecution, said department spokeswoman Karen Garber.

In what department officials called a "growing and alarming trend," several of the cases stemmed from small-business owners who lied about their ownership and instead claimed to be employees drawing a modest salary.

One case involved a restaurant owner from Valley Stream who lied about the $126,000 in income she received from her restaurant so that she could be eligible for Medicaid benefits.

Social Services Commissioner John Imhof said the investigations "ensure that funds will only go to the neediest of our residents."

The report also notes that as the department's operating budget dropped from $506 million in 2012 to $496 million in 2013, it still saw increases in the number of requests for food stamps and Medicaid. Imhof said the aftermath of superstorm Sandy in late 2012 played a role in the increase of people seeking government assistance.

Last year Nassau handled 22,475 food stamp applications compared with 22,256 in 2012, and received 110,918 Medicaid applications, up from 98,382 in 2012.

Suffolk's Department of Social Services expects to have its annual report available by the end of the month, spokesman John Nieves said.

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