Niagara Gazette

May 20, 2013

County welfare fraud unit to grow by one

Staff reports
Niagara Gazette

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

The county legislature’s administration committee last week recommended approval of an authorizing motion.

The sheriff’s office employs one investigator currently, Deputy Amanda Irons, under contract with the local Department of Social Services. The unit has made19 arrests and placed charges against 23 people this year. It also has 133 open cases. In 2009, there were three investigators at the sheriff’s office. In 2010 there were two. In 2011, it was cut to one.

“It’s busy,” said Irons, a veteran of the sheriff’s office who has been on her own as investigator since October. “I have a lot of great support in Department of Social Services. They’re always there when I need them.”

“She’s humble,” said Capt. Kristen M. Neubauer who said she is not comfortable with a welfare fraud office with just one person. “The cases are more and more and the personal are less and less. We’re attacking them the best we can.”

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 autumn. 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.