You might think the reputation of the Massachusetts welfare system—euphemistically named the Department of Transitional Assistance (what’s transitional about it?)—had plumbed its deepest depths with the revelation that Speed Bump, Tamerlan Tsanaev, had had his extended palm stuffed with fifties and hundreds (thereby making his multiple murders and mass maimings “state-sponsored” terrorism).
But you would be wrong: those deepest depths just got deeper still:
State welfare officials — despite a widely touted crackdown on fraud — never even returned the call of a Dedham cop who reported EBT benefits flowing to a house loaded with drugs and cash.
Police Detective Bob Walsh alerted the state Department of Transitional Assistance that welfare benefits were being paid to a Dorchester woman whose live-in boyfriend was busted in a raid that netted heroin, cocaine, more than $65,000 in cash, an EBT card and WIC and MassHealth documents in their apartment and cars.
A drug task force led by Dedham police raided the couple’s Dorchester apartment in late March and found $65,225 in cash inside a safe, a bureau and a shoe holder, as well as approximately 52 grams of heroin and 40 grams of cocaine, according to police reports.
Odelio Sepulveda-Guerrero, 34, a native of the Dominican Republic, was arrested, and he was indicted last week on a slew of drug charges, including trafficking heroin and cocaine, prosecutors said.
But cops report also finding an EBT card with the name of Sepulveda-Guerrero’s girlfriend. The woman asked police to help her “locate the paper work for her WIC program so she could get milk,” according to a police report.
Cops believe Sepulveda-Guerrero was using the apartment as a home base for a drug-dealing enterprise — using two SUVs registered under aliases used by the woman, according to Walsh.
At one point during cops’ surveillance, they saw Sepulveda-Guerrero sell cocaine to an undercover officer while he was with “his girlfriend and two young children,” according to a Dedham police report. Cops also found Puerto Rican birth certificates, a Boston Housing Authority Certificate of Homelessness dated 2011, a Venezuelan passport and a Social Security card under a variety of names and aliases.
Which prompts a question in my mind…
“I wanted someone to do something — or at least look into it,” Walsh told the Herald. “Finding that much cash in the presence of documents that would suggest the occupants were receiving public assistance … I felt a report should be made.”
But five weeks passed without a peep from the state — not even a return call to Walsh on the case of the couple, both illegal immigrants, according to immigration officials.
That’s what I was afraid of. For it’s not bad enough that the state sat on this information and did nothing. Not bad enough that decent, worthy recipients of “transitional” assistance are discredited by these leeches (whose blood-sucking must deprive someone of something). What makes it worse is that these people are not only ineligible to receive a dime, they’re ineligible to be here at all.
The DTA has desperately tried to demonstrate it’s turning the corner after a series of blistering scandals. They include overpaying food stamps recipients by $27 million and then shelling out $3.4 million in overtime pay to fix the glitch. A stunning inspector general report found $25 million in EBT money went to recipients who may not have been eligible. And a Herald review uncovered that DTA couldn’t locate thousands of EBT recipients.
Oh, did I say the state sat on the information and did nothing?
That was yesterday; this is today:
Welfare-fraud investigators were jolted into action yesterday after a front-page Herald report said they failed to follow up when a Dedham cop told them he found an EBT card and paperwork for other benefits during a raid on a Dorchester apartment loaded with drugs and cash.
Dedham police Detective Bob Walsh said a representative from the state auditor’s Bureau of Special Investigations called him yesterday after the Herald reported his tip to the Department of Transitional Assistance went five weeks without an answer.
“He told me he had just been assigned the case, and would follow up with me sometime next week,” Walsh said.
After refusing to tell a Herald reporter on Wednesday how it handled the tip, the DTA said yesterday it received Walsh’s complaint March 30 and referred it to the auditor’s office April 1.
Sepulveda-Guerrero was indicted on state drug-trafficking charges, and a separate federal case for re-entering the U.S. after being deported. The woman was not charged with a crime.
The DTA has touted its own anti-fraud unit after a slew of embarrassing reports, including $27 million overpayment to food-stamp recipients and $25 million to people who may not have been eligible. But the agency sought to distance itself from the case yesterday. “DTA is not a law enforcement agency and does not investigate criminal matters. … If the tip is criminal in nature, it is immediately referred to BSI,” it said in a statement.
It is unclear how the woman obtained an EBT card in her true name, as illegal immigrants are ineligible for welfare.
So, the investigator had “just been assigned the case”, while at the same time it had been assigned over five weeks ago. Okay…
It’s debatable, but I think this story is worse than the bad joke that DTA now stands for Department of Terrorist Assistance (though it does, literally). Tens of millions of dollars wasted, lost to fraud. Let me see a show of hands who believes that’s a complete accounting. Anyone? Me neither.