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Greed in a Time of Need? State to Investigate

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

There were cases of price gouging by tree removers. Out-of-statedebris 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 peoplewho fraudulently received food stamps after Hurricane Fran.

The application for those emergency food stamps providesclear 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 than7,400 applications.

In the wake of Hurricane Fran, thousands lined up to get emergencyfood stamps. The state relaxed its requirements to help people includingstate 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 employeefraud.

"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 hearabout the possibility of state employees fraudulently getting food stamps.

"It makes me sad to think that folks who know how the system worksandhow toget around are going to take advantage of something like that when thereareprobably a lot of people out there who don't even know how to gain accesstothose types of (service)."

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

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

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

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