SUSAN GALLAGHER Associated Press Writer HELENA
Stepped-up investigation of food-stamp fraud in Montana is showing results, with seven people indicted in the past three months on allegations they cheated the federal food program, U.S. Attorney Bill Mercer said Thursday. Another initiative, against Social Security fraud in Montana, saved an estimated $535,000 in fiscal year 2008, Mercer said. "The integrity of these programs that taxpayers are spending significant amounts of money on is really crucial," Mercer said at a Helena news conference. "We enter cases like this hoping that we're going to see defendants incarcerated." Mercer's office has bundled foodstamp cases under a fraud initiative it calls "Trick for Treat." Social Security cases are clustered under the banner "Pennies from Heaven." Enforcement in those areas was strengthened by rearranging priorities of the U.S. attorney's staff, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl Rostad. Mercer highlighted the case of Helena resident Kendy M. Carpenter, 31, awaiting sentencing in February for cheating the food-stamp program and for other crimes. Carpenter pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges last month. Prosecutors say the former daycare operator claimed food benefits and other government aid for children not in her care. They said she also applied for food-stamp and Medicaid benefits without disclosing $1,200 in monthly payments received from the father of two of her children, payments that would have made her ineligible for benefits. In a 2006 bankruptcy declaration, Carpenter made false statements and deliberately omitted financial information, prosecutors said. In January 2007 she began work as an insurance claims examiner for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, which administers welfare programs, and continued to receive welfare benefits without disclosing her employment. Possible penalties at her sentencing are five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years under supervision after release from prison. The six other food-benefits cases remain pending. Also pending are cases in which several people were indicted on allegations they received Social Security benefits for people who had died. Federal enforcement includes telephone hot lines for the public to report suspicions of fraud. The food stamp number is (800) 424-9121. The Social Security number is (800) 269-0271.