Tonawanda News

May 15, 2013

Welfare fraud unit to grow

Staff reports
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — The Niagara County Sheriff’s Department is poised to hire a second welfare fraud investigator.

The county legislature’s administration committee this week recommended approval of the hire.

The sheriff’s department employs one investigator currently, Amanda Irons, under contract with the local Department of Social Services. In 2012-13 the fraud unit pursued dozens of cases of suspected welfare fraud and helped Social Services save almost $400,000, according to sheriff’s Chief Deputy Thomas Beatty.

A second investigator would be hired from NCSD’s ranks and his or her $68,000 pay and benefits would be covered by Social Services. The state in turn would reimburse the department for 75 percent of the cost.

Also Tuesday, the administration committee recommended the legislature OK the transfer of $125,000 from a contingency fund to the Department of Mental Hygiene, to cover the county’s share of the ongoing cost of court-ordered hospitalization of two residents accused of crimes.

Both residents, a man accused of a non-violent felony property crime, and a woman accused of burglary under two different names, were found not competent to stand trial and were ordered into treatment at a state-run psychiatric hospital this past fall. Both are expected to remain in treatment for up to another four months, Michael W. White, deputy director of Mental Health Services, said Tuesday.

When criminal defendants are ordered hospitalized for mental health treatment or evaluation, the state requires the ordering county to pay half of the tab. In its 2013 budget, Mental Health Services estimated it would need $66,400 for the year to cover hospitalizations. The budget line is already exhausted, White said.