Local News

Greed in a Time of Need? State to Investigate

Posted March 11, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

— Hurricane Fran created a time of tremendous need -- and perhaps a time of tremendous greed.

There were cases of price gouging by tree removers. Out-of-state debris haulers ripped-off by contractors. Now there's an investigation into possible abuse of the food stamp system.

What's surprising is that some state employees might be the culprits.

The state's Division of Social Services is cracking down on people who fraudulently received food stamps after Hurricane Fran.

The application for those emergency food stamps provides clear guidelines on who is eligible for the assistance. But some state employees might have skirted around the system.

A state quality control program is now reviewing more than 7,400 applications.

In the wake of Hurricane Fran, thousands lined up to get emergency food stamps. The state relaxed its requirements to help people including state employees.

Of the 95,000 people in 34 counties who received food stamps, 4,800 were state employees. Kevin Fitzgerald, Director of the Division of Social Services, says his department is looking into the possibility of state employee fraud.

"If there's fraud, we're going to find it and root it out," he said.

Kathleen Waldvogel of Raleigh said she was surprised to hear about the possibility of state employees fraudulently getting food stamps.

"It makes me sad to think that folks who know how the system works and how to get around are going to take advantage of something like that when there are probably a lot of people out there who don't even know how to gain access to those types of (service)."

There are reports that a state employee and his wife who earned a combined $13,000 a month received emergency food stamps after Fran.

State lawmakers are considering a bill that will toughen the penalties for food stamp fraud and give the state more tools for checking fraud.

Currently, if you're found guilty of food stamp fraud, you can be barred from the program up to a year. You may also be fined, jailed, or both.