Fraud Alleged in Food-Stamp Giveway With PM-Quake-Porn, Bjt
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Some of the emergency food stamps being handed out to quake victims on the honor system may be going to scam artists who don’t qualify, social-service officials acknowledged.
Roughly 45,200 people have applied for the food stamps since Monday at 30 welfare offices in Los Angeles County. About 5,000 people were in line by 11 a.m. Thursday in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale.
″There’s no doubt in my mind there’s people in line who are taking liberties with the system,″ said police Sgt. Tom Thate. ″There are not this many earthquake victims.″
″You want to help those in need, but to do it without checking, to take everyone’s word, that’s just not the way to do things,″ said Glendale Mayor Larry Zarian. ″I can almost assure you that there are many people standing in line who don’t need food stamps.″
Mary Robertson, who oversees the county program, said applicants must sign a document declaring financial hardship because of the quake. But because applicants aren’t required to provide immediate verification, there is the chance of fraud, she said.
Some suspicious applications can be delayed, but ″it’s looking like the majority of the people applying for the emergency food stamps are actually getting the food stamps,″ said Richard Gonzalez, a county administrator.
The food stamp giveaway - $112 worth for a single person and up to $450 for a family - is scheduled to run through Feb. 7.
Suspicious cases will be turned over to investigators. If applicants lie, they can be fined up to $250,000 and imprisoned for up to 20 years, Robertson said.
In other developments:
- In Santa Monica today, police stood guard outside an apartment building that had been invaded by thieves who stole television sets and household goods. Officers said the looters managed to get into the condemned building despite plywood on the windows and doors. ″It’s a little like adding insult to injury,″ said police detective Mark Rodina.
- The number of quake refugees staying in tent cities and other shelters fell to about 3,000 - compared with an estimated 13,000 last weekend - as victims found new housing or returned to homes declared safe.
-More than 156,200 people have applied for federal quake aid, and more than $18 million in approved loans were in the pipeline, said James Lee Witt, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.