Fighting Public Welfare Fraud In Washington Keeps Investigators Busy

By Austin Jenkins

Fraud investigators in Washington say they expect to announce a major case of public welfare theft next month. This small team of fraud-fighters was created three years ago after a series of media reports highlighted serious misuse of public benefits.

Food stamp theft. Misuse of welfare benefits. It happens every day in Washington. The job of stopping it falls to the three-year-old office of Fraud and Accountability within the Department of Social and Health Services. In one year alone, the team investigated more than four-thousand criminal fraud cases and referred nearly 300 of them for prosecution. Add to that the hundreds of welfare fraud tips that come into a hotline each month. Steve Lowe is a former county prosecutor who heads the fraud office. He acknowledges there’s still a lot more work to do.

Steven Lowe: “We’ve been so busy on the criminal cases trying to put criminal cases , it’s been so much work. I have 11 criminal investigators, they each have an average caseload now of 40 cases.”

Lowe was my guest on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program. The Fraud office also gets more than 7-thousand requests a year to review suspicious applications for public benefits.

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