State investigators: Welfare fraud low
An alleged case of welfare fraud has become high profile in Anchorage after felony charges were filed against State Senate candidate Bekah Halat and her husband earlier this month.
But state investigators say the amount of welfare fraud in Alaska is actually pretty low.
Last year, the Division of Public Assistance's Fraud Control Unit launched 430 investigations, but only found 97 cases to be fraudulent, according to a state report.
Not every case found to be fraudulent results in criminal charges, like the ones Halat faces.
Chris Lauer, chief investigator for the Fraud Control Unit, says it depends on how much money was allegedly stolen. If it was more than $5,000 from a single program, the division recommends the state seek criminal charges.
"We could send almost everything we have to the Dept. of Law, but then we would overload them, so we just don't do that," Lauer said.
Halat's family allegedly received more than $10,000 in food stamps since last year.
According to court documents, investigators found the couple had a bank account that contained between $35,000 and $40,000 at the time -- a find they made only after Halat filed for office. An anonymous citizen tipped the state's fraud unit to the case after Halat solicited political support at that person's home.
"We do have a statewide unit; we are getting tips on a daily basis," Lauer said, adding that his team of 13 gets between 20 and 25 tips a day -- many of which are anonymous.
"A lot of people don't like to have their name out there as being an informant. So, you have to offer them that capability or you may not get that information anyway," Lauer said.
Halat's case will now go before a judge.
Last year, fraud control investigators reported collecting more than half a million dollars that been paid out to people who should not have been eligible for public assistance.
If you suspect a case of welfare fraud in the state, you can report it to the fraud control unit by calling 269-1060 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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