Why did prosecutor warn Lakewood about avoiding welfare fraud?
LAKEWOOD — Authorities in Ocean County are defending a 2015 community meeting they held to warn hundreds of residents against scamming welfare.
The meeting was prompted after a Lakewood couple and others in the county were charged with collecting government benefits to which they were not entitled.
Two years later, authorities arrested 14 more people in this community after an investigation into the owner of a beeper store, who pleaded guilty to running an unlicensed money-transmitting business that transmitted millions of dollars, revealed ties to some of suspects charged this week, officials said.
Even more people may be charged in the welfare scheme, officials say.
After announcing the first round of arrests on Monday, Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato pointed out that the community had been warned in 2015 about abusing welfare services.
This prompted readers to question why prosecutors would give potential scammers a head's up.
Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, said the meeting held in 2015 with members of the community was meant to warn people about the dangers of benefit fraud.
"When we saw the number (of arrests), we said let's bring it to the community. And the community asked us, What's going on here?" he said. "It's like any warning. Why do you have to warn people about drunk driving? Why do you have to warn about a seat belt? These are all things you would think people would do on their own but they don't."
Among those arrested in 2014 were Yosaf Laskin and his wife, Gila Neger, of Lakewood. The couple was charged with second- and third-degree theft by deception.
Laskin was charged with not indicating income on his Medicaid applications, allowing his family to receive more than $145,000 in unlawful benefits. Prosecutors said Neger had provided false information on an application for food stamps, bringing in more than $5,000 in additional benefits.
Their case is still pending in court.
In December 2015, Peter and Lisa Cerruto, of Barnegat, were charged with theft by deception and other charges, according to NJ.com. The Cerruto's were charged with receiving almost $70,000 worth of Medicaid benefits between February 2010 and July 2013.
Della Fave said the Prosecutor's Office has had similar community outreach meetings in the past around the county and said at the meetings they provide "little reminders" to help people better follow the law.
"The victim here is the government. The government came to us and said these people are victimizing us. If they bring us cases, we're going to prosecute."
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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com