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Nassau social services' fraud unit praised

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos (Jan. 7, 2010)

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos (Jan. 7, 2010) Credit: Newsday File / Karen Wiles Stabile

After years of poor performance, the investigations office of Nassau's Department of Social Services has shown major improvements in detecting fraud, according to an audit by County Comptroller George Maragos.

The report found the office has turned the corner since the comptroller's 2004 audit, which found the investigations unit understaffed, lacking in supervision and training, and short on criminal referrals.

"We are detecting fraud quicker, smarter and more efficiently," said Scott Skrynecki, a former Department of Homeland Security law enforcement official who now runs the unit.

The comptroller found the department ranks as one of the most effective in the state in identifying and referring fraud cases for prosecution.

In 2009, the office referred $2.2 million in fraud cases to the Nassau district attorney and the state Medicaid inspector general, and $2.6 million last year.

In both years, Nassau's figures were significantly better than Suffolk's, Westchester's and Erie County's, the audit found.

So far in 2011, the office has referred $1.7 million in cases to the district attorney and $207,000 to the state inspector general, Skrynecki said.

The comptroller noted that the unit also has shown organizational improvements, including better training and more effective public outreach.

"It is not often that we find significant improvements in government efficiencies," Maragos said.

Maragos, however, said the office is still lacking in some areas. He recommended the department hire more bilingual investigators and use unmarked cars for surveillance. The audit also suggested that field investigators work in pairs for home visits and be allowed to work more evening rotations. While the department is considering some of the recommendations, officials noted that the county's current fiscal climate could limit some personnel initiatives.

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