Million-dollar Welfare Fraud Schemes Roil New England

AP Photo/LM Otero
AP Photo/LM Otero

MANCHESTER, NH – A 33-year-old convicted cocaine dealer collecting a monthly SSI handout used his state EBT welfare card to rent a bank safety-deposit box in which police have found $560,050 in cash – the latest in a series of busts in New England involving massive welfare fraud, often committed by drug dealers or recent immigrants.

The unprecedented increases in the number of people on welfare has led to ever more criminal activity in New England, a region where until recently most people took pride in their independence and self-reliance. Now New Hampshire’s traditional motto, “Live Free or Die,” has taken on a new meaning as the non-working population has exploded in cities like Manchester and Nashua.

In this latest investigation, local and federal law enforcement confiscated another $216,000 in cash at three other locations that they have claimed in court filings belonged to the imprisoned welfare recipient, Zakee Stuart-Holt. He was described in court documents as “a large-scale heroin distributor.” When asked by police what was in the bank safety-deposit box, the drug dealer’s wife had replied, “Nothing of significance.”

The feds are seeking forfeiture of the $775,000 in cash, plus the couple’s two vehicles, one of which they reported is equipped with a hidden compartment. The drug dealer and his wife also own a women’s clothing store in Laconia, which the wife told police she pays no taxes on.

A lengthy affidavit filed in support of the feds’ motion for forfeiture of the cash and the vehicles contains no information as to why the cash-rich cocaine dealer was deemed eligible to collect both Supplement Security Income (SSI) and food stamps, or whether he continues to receive his handouts while in state prison. The U.S. attorney’s office in Concord declined comment beyond what was in the court filings.

In neighboring Massachusetts, a native of Ghana was charged last week with $3.6 million in theft from the federal food stamps program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In 2010, the woman opened a small convenience store in Worcester, the second largest city in New England. In the next four years Vida Ofori Causey allegedly processed $3.6 million in payments from the federal welfare program that has added at least 14 million new recipients since Barack Obama became president.

According to the indictment, a “customer” would come into the store and “charge” a certain amount of alleged groceries. Then Causey would allegedly pay them in cash – 50 cents on the dollar, which is the customary rate.

The Worcester bust followed arrests last spring of six Dominican natives in Lawrence, MA, a city like Worcester heavily populated by illegal aliens and welfare recipients. Those arrested were charged with running an EBT money-laundering scheme which netted them $2.5 million. According to that indictment, the Dominicans’ stores had no shopping carts or hand baskets for purchases, yet their average EBT transaction was more than twice the average recorded at nearby full-service supermarkets – more than $80 per “purchase,” compared with a little over $40 on average at the legitimate groceries.

Two of the Dominicans in Lawrence were also charged with federal firearms violations.

The oddity in the case of the Manchester drug dealer/welfare cheat is that the principals appear to be native-born Americans. Stuart-Holt’s wife, Jeannette Hardy, age 24, came to the attention of police here last June when she was shot in the hand during a home invasion by an “unidentified African-American male.”

Speaking to police after being shot, Hardy described herself as a “dancer,” but admitted paying no income taxes. During questioning, she received a phone call from her husband in prison. Police obtained a search warrant for the apartment, where they found what appeared to be heroin, but was later identified as fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid linked to dozens of recent overdose deaths in New England.

After an investigation, the dancer was arrested, along with two men from Haverhill and Lawrence who are alleged to have been her drug suppliers.

The recent EBT fraud arrests in Massachusetts have led to more calls by new GOP Gov. Charlie Baker for welfare reform, which was staunchly opposed by the former Democrat Gov. Deval Patrick. Patrick, a close friend of President Barack Obama, admits to being a former welfare recipient, and before leaving office appointed another former welfare recipient as sheriff of Suffolk County, which includes Boston.

For years Democrat Patrick dismissed all reports of welfare fraud as “anecdotes,” even after a court-ordered mailing to all EBT-card holders in Massachusetts in 2012 resulted in the return of 10 percent of the first-class letters – 50,000 in all – as undeliverable.

Patrick scoffed at charges that the discovery of 50,000 “ghost” card holders indicated massive fraud in his EBT program, instead describing the fraud as “leakage.”

Patrick, whose administration was wracked by various scandals, has recently been touted as a potential vice presidential candidate on a 2016 ticket with Vice President Joe Biden. On Sunday, in Rye, NH, former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown described the prospect of Patrick’s national candidacy as a “joke.”

Meanwhile, politics in neighboring Maine have likewise been roiled by endless reports of welfare abuse. In Maine, the problem has been particularly acute among “asylum seekers” – also known as illegal aliens – who have given a new meaning to the state’s old nickname, Vacationland.

GOP Gov. Paul LePage, reelected easily last year, has battled Democrat legislators in Augusta over the state’s generous welfare program. LePage has also tried to impose new eligibility requirements on recipients of general relief, a number of whom in Portland have been shown to have sizable assets.

An off-year mayoral race next month in Lewiston, where thousands of Somali refugees have been resettled, pits a conservative Republican incumbent against a challenger who wants to increase welfare payments to illegal aliens. The state Republican party is circulating petitions statewide to put a referendum question on the state ballot next year to tighten eligibility requirements to collect welfare.

Howie Carr is the author of the new Boston organized-crime novel, Killers, available on Amazon.


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