Welfare fraud bust comes with a warning

80 people were arrested in Tuesday morning's welfare roundup--accounting for $850,000 in fraudulent loss to five CNY counties.

Amidst promises of tougher prosecution, law enforcement has arrested 80 people in five Central New York counties, for welfare fraud.

Here's the breakdown of the arrests for medicaid, food stamp, public assistance and daycare fraud:Onondaga County: 54 warrants, $661,000 of fraudCayuga County: 7 warrants, $40,000Oneida County: 15 warrants, $129,000Oswego County: 10 warrants, $30- 40,000Madison County is still compiling reportsAt a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Onondaga County District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick and representatives of the other counties involved said they hope this sends a message that welfare fraud enforcement is beefing up, and that people arrested will not get off lightly.

"We've been getting ten cents on the dollar and very little jail time," says Fitzpatrick. "Those days are over. My marching orders to my staff at the rackets bureau: people who have done this before, we want them to go to state prison. People who haven't done this before, we're looking for felony convictions."

Social services is a huge operation. In Onondaga County, Commissioner David Sutkowy tells us 90,000 residents receive aid this year--it's up significantly since the recession. The welfare 'business' takes up almost half--six stories--of Onondaga County's Civic Center building in downtown Syracuse.DA Fitzpatrick also says they know there are a lot more abusers out there, and the message to them - turn yourself in. When asked if there would be an amnesty, Fitzpatrick replied, "I'm not gonna let someone walk in and say 'I stole a hundred thousand dollars, oops, I'm sorry'. If someone who has an arguable claim or justification but is not eligible, wants to come in and pay back the money, my office is not unreasonable." The DA gave several examples of the people arrested today, including Nadia El-Hindi, who moved to Syracuse after her husband was sentenced for terrorism in Ohio. She was paying $1200/month in rent, plus expenses with no declared income, according to documents, and is charged with getting almost $53,000 she was not entitled to.

Another suspect arrested was Matthew Bush, who was receiving Onondaga County benefits while reporting for probation in St. Lawrence county. And, Agusto Perez and Brenda Calderon, on Medicaid, who never listed income ($23,500) from the U S Olympic Committee for speaking and appearances.In addition to tougher sentences for offenders, enforcers are looking into better computer software to track offenders. They hope that today's raid will scare more illegal recipients into voluntarily giving up benefits---that's happened after past raids.