By Naeisha Rose
A South Richmond Hill couple pled guilty to stealing nearly $92,000 in welfare aid, according to New York State Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott and Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.
A spokesman for the Inspector General’s office said the couple’s earning level was sufficient to make them ineligible for the welfare benefits they pilfered; however, he said he was not at liberty to specify their exact income.
Dhaneshwar Sukhdeo, 42, and his wife Samantaha Sukhdeo, 47, pled guilty Oct. 2 to charges of grand larceny in the fourth degree, which is a felony, and for concealing their actual income on applications for public assistance benefits, according to Brown and Leahy.
“The defendants in this case gamed the system for their own personal benefit,” said Brown.
By falsifying their income level from 2009 to 2016, the couple fraudulently obtained $75,864.74 in Medicaid and $16,132 in food stamps, which totals $91,996 in welfare benefits, according to the Inspector General’s office.
“Food stamps and Medicaid are intended to help the truly needy. But, this couple made all taxpayers their victims when they manipulated their way into getting more than $80,000 in benefits,” said Brown.
Medicaid is a joint federal-state program that provides health coverage for low income and at-risk individuals, but the husband in this case repeatedly listed himself as having no employment income, despite working as an electrical contractor, according to the IG’s office.
The New York State Office of the Welfare Inspector General investigates fraud, abuse or illegal acts committed against public assistance programs designed to help those in need and was responsible for the investigation, along with Brown’s office and the city’s Human Resources Administration, the agency that helps people facing poverty.
The IG’s office was not allowed to go into the specifics that prompted an investigation into the couple, according to its spokesman.
The Investigative Revenue and Enforcement Administration was the investigative arm of HRA that examines tips on Cash Assistance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid fraud committed by participants, according to the Human Resources Administration.
This year, data analytics helped them to root out companies that were providers of Medicaid that recruited clients to steal millions from the welfare program, and have increased their recovery efforts of funds from the different forms of aid, as well as overpayments.
“As the largest social services agency in the nation, preventing fraud and ensuring taxpayer money is used properly is our highest priority. Our trained investigators use innovative practices to identify and root out fraud by conducting data matches, investigating fieldwork and reviewing detection programs to prevent inappropriate or fraudulent enrollments in our social programs,” said an HRA/DSS spokesman.
To qualify for assistance like food stamps, a family of two must make less than $2,030 monthly or $24,360 annually, according to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
“This couple brazenly concealed their household income to fraudulently obtain taxpayer-funded public benefits to which they were not entitled,” said Leahy Scott. “I will continue using all of the resources at my disposal to protect the public benefits system from fraud to help ensure they remain available for those who are truly in the most need of financial assistance.”
As part of their plea deal, the couple must repay the full amount stolen, according to the IG’s office.
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose