Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Welfare fraud linked to drug epidemic

 


Welfare fraud is the other side of the drug problem, said Osten Berg of Moose Lake at the meeting of TRIAD and Fond du Lac Elder Concerns Group on Wednesday, November 2, at the Fond du Lac Tribal Center.

Berg, a retired Moose Lake police officer, said that he investigates welfare fraud in four counties: Aitkin, Carlton, Pine and Kanabec.

“Carlton County is collecting $169,000 in overpayments,” said Berg. “The people got the payments when they weren’t eligible. We go after them and get the payments back.”

The payments were for SNAP (food stamps) benefits and cash assistance, Berg explained.

“I need to find out who is living in the house,” he said. “Maybe someone is getting assistance who isn’t living there.”

Berg said he sees the other side of the problem as the use of illegal drugs.

“The children, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and, in some cases, the great-grandparents of the addicts are involved,” he said. “They take the children in when their parents are on drugs. When it comes to kids, I’ll go the extra mile.”

Berg spoke of one case where grandparents were taking care of the children of addicts, while the mother was collecting over $500 a month in benefits.

“Addicts will sell SNAP benefits,” he said. “They tell their parents, the grandparents, they will sell them $150 in SNAP benefits for $75. When you pay them, that continues to be a habit. Don’t continue to help them (addicts) by buying their food support.”

Berg said that is a violation, and he writes up the person selling the SNAP benefits. They are taken off of food and cash support for a length of time.

The addicts find other ways to get money from their parents, who are often senior citizens, to buy drugs.

“The seniors take in their kids’ children,” he said. “To support those children, they remortgage the house. Some sell things, like vehicles. Meanwhile, their kids are ripping them off. They steal items, such as a chainsaw, from their parents to sell to get money to buy drugs.”

Berg asked people to report welfare fraud.

“If you know people that are selling EBT benefits, please report it,” he said. “That helps me deal with it. I help with child protection and child support. In some cases, the babies are taken away. If you are helping take care of children, there is help available through human services.”

Berg said people that have something to report should call Carlton County Human Services at (218) 879-4583 and ask for the supervisor.

“The whistle-blower law protects you if you report something,” he added. “Please leave your name and phone number so I can talk to you. We often can’t follow-up on a case because the person that reported it did not leave their name so we could get more information.”

Berg spoke of one case where a young man with disabilities was working in a program for the disabled. He received Social Security benefits because of his father and received a paycheck from the place where he worked.

It was noticed he was wearing the same shirt and pants every day. In an investigation, it was found the people he lived with were taking his money.

“We got him out of the home,” said Berg. “That resulted in him being able to purchase new clothing and he developed a feeling of greater self-worth.

“If you know something, say something. Help those people help themselves.”

Another speaker was Chief Sam Ojibwe of the Fond du Lac Police.

He spoke about drug sales that take place at Black Bear Casino.

“We have proposed that we have an office at the casino,” he told the group. “We also asked for access to the surveillance room, where officers can see the gaming floor. We hope it works out.”

Ojibwe added they have received grant funding from two sources and will be adding two officers.

“We are swamped with financial and property crimes,” he said. “They all stem from the use of drugs.”

Dennis Genereau, Carlton County Coordinator, spoke about the jail study that is under way.

“The jail is old and there is no program space or treatment space,” he said. “We could be providing those services for those who are there for a length of time. We could basically help them be successful when they leave.”

Genereau said part of the study will look at what resources are available in the community, and if the resources are being utilized to the maximum.

He also spoke about the excellent facilities on the Fond du Lac Reservation.

“Fond du Lac is one of the best tribes,” he said. “They take their resources and use them to the benefit of the community.”

Moose Lake Police Chief Bryce Bogenholm spoke about an upcoming program that will be taught to the sixth grade class in the Moose Lake school, starting in January.

“We need to educate the children at a young age so they don’t start using drugs,” he said. “Moose Lake probably has the lowest crime rate in the region, but we work hard to keep it that way.”

 

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