Ex-county employee arrested in welfare fraud case
A woman who was trained on spotting welfare fraud as an employee of the Mesa County Department of Human Services was arrested Monday on allegations she defrauded the agency of various welfare program funds totaling nearly $13,000.
Michelle Rich, 32, of Grand Junction, was released from the Mesa County Jail on Tuesday after signing out on a $7,500 personal-recognizance bond, after she was advised of charges including attempt to influence a public servant, theft, forgery and second-degree perjury.
Rich, an eligibility technician for Mesa County DHS between Nov. 13, 2011, and July 26, 2012, is alleged to have falsified multiple applications for assistance, which included failing to report the fact that the father of her child had been living with her and financially supporting her since May 2012, according to an arrest warrant affidavit drafted by a county fraud investigator.
The deception allegedly started in August 2012, one month after leaving her county job, and continued through Jan. 31 of this year, the affidavit said.
Rich received internal fraud training, while her position involved review of assistance applications, interviews with clients for recertification of benefits, determining eligibility and processing cases, the affidavit said.
Rich has claimed she wasn’t aware of what had to be reported, which an investigator concluded, “is not reasonable given her position ... (she) trained in program rules, determined eligibility, administered benefits, processed cases and instructed cases on mandatory reporting requirements,” the affidavit said.
An investigation showed Rich was not reporting income from her child’s father, under-reported her own income and failed to list money she got from a rental house she owns. The father’s name had been removed from a lease Rich submitted to Mesa County. She declared in an application that he works out of state and wasn’t living with her, the affidavit said.
That’s belied by Rich’s Facebook page, which had recent photos of her with the man, among other evidence, the affidavit said.
The fraud investigator established surveillance on Rich’s home, where authorities claimed she and the man were representing themselves as a married couple. Bank records, interviews including contact with Rich’s landlord, surveillance that also involved “neighborhood canvassing” and records from employers all support a conclusion that Rich misrepresented income and composition of the household, the investigator alleged.
“Michelle was able to use (her) training to her advantage to deceptively obtain benefits for her household when she knew they would not be eligible,” the affidavit said.
The affidavit alleges Mesa County DHS incurred a total loss of $7,572 to Children’s Health Plan Plus, $2,669 for Medicaid, $983 for food stamps and $1,400 in administrative costs.
Rich wasn’t represented by a lawyer during a bond hearing Tuesday via video conference from the Mesa County Jail. She couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.