The cases, after a while, become numbingly familiar. A woman who qualifies for public assistance remains on the rolls, even after she remarries and no longer qualifies for aid. An employe of the county Social Services Department mails notices to relief reciptents, telling them their payments have been canceled, then keeps the checks herself.
And, classically a woman with three sources of income and a Cadillac is arrested after it is found that she is receiving public assistance under two different names.
Since George's County courts have been swamped with case after case of welfare fraud over the past three years. The Offenses range from small, $2,000 to $3,000 cases to elaborate, $5,000 frauds by experienced welfare-cheaters.
The recent increase in the number of fraud arrests does not reflect an increase in the number of public assistance cheaters in Prince George's County, however, says investigator Lonnie Brown of the State's Attorney's Office.
Rather Brown says, the arrests indicate that more welfare abusers in Prince George's are being caught. Much of the success is the result of a federally funded program to stop welfare fraud.
For the past three years, Brown and investigator Alonzo Black have worked exclusively on welfare fraud investigations, supported by annual federal grants. As a result, more than 400 cases of fraud have been prosecuted in county courts - an arrest rate much higher than before the program started, Brown said. He said that he was unsure how many fraud arrests were made before the program started because the figures were not kept separately.
Recently Brown says court-ordered restitutions of misappropriated public assistance funds resulting from the investigators' work passed the $1 million mark. The $1 million restitution level was reached with the conviction recently of one of the most successful welfare cheaters investigators have uncovered.
Brenda Joyce Dobbins, a 30-year-old former Prince George's County social services employe, pleaded guilty last month to charges that she faked welfare records and applications to steal more than $31,000 in food stamps.
When she is sentenced Aug. 25, Dobbins could be given a prison term of up to three years. By law, she must also be ordered to repay the missing funds, according to Black.
Despite his success in discovering major welfare cheaters, Brown says he believes his investigations are only "skimming the surface" of social service violations.
"There's no way of estimating how much is lost to the county in welfare frauds," Brown said, "but social services feels we've at least slowed down the amount of (cheating) that's going on."
Seventy to 80 percent of his cases, Brown said, have involved persons who originally qualified for welfare, then stayed on the rolls after their income increased thus disqualifying them for payments.
Of the 400 cases, he said, five have involved fraud from within the social services system. The violators ranged from Dobbins, who filed payment forms for fictional persons to a mailroom employe who simply kept checks returned in the mail because relief recipients had changed addresses.
The welfare investigation program will continue for at least another year Brown said, thanks to funds from a recent $169.000 federal grant to the county welfare-paternity-nonsupport division, of which the investigative unit is a part. The division is also supported by $57.000 in county resources. "Nobody ever looked into this sort of thing until we first received the grants," Brown said. "Now that we're stopping so many people, we plan to keep it going as long as we can.