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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 12, 2012

Now Handy Andy is nabbed for welfare fraud
By Tyler Murphy

VOORHESVILLE –– A Voorheesville handyman accused of stealing items from his clients’ homes did so while illegally collecting welfare funds by not reporting his jobs, reported the Albany County sheriff.

When Andrew J. Myers, of Handy Andy Home Improvement, was arrested in early March, police charged him for stealing jewelry and other items from the homes of his clients. This week, investigators also charged Myers for failing to report his handyman jobs while collecting money from the department of social services.

Myers was arrested in early March after sheriff’s investigators going through pawnshop records noticed a class ring from Voorheesville’s high school had been pawned. Police traced the ring back to Myers and accused him of stealing from the people who hired him for house repairs, said the sheriff. Myers allegedly stole property from homes he gained access to for his work and then pawned those items for cash. His case is pending in Albany County Court, reported Sheriff Craig Apple.

Police said Myers may have been stealing items from his clients for the last six months and, during some of this time, he was collecting funds from social services. Myers is now being charged with fraud for failing to report his home improvement jobs to the agency.

Apple said police learned of the fraud while they were investigating the alleged thefts.

“We were going through the case, looking at where this guy was working and realized he wasn’t suppose to be,” said Apple.

Myers was one of eight people charged with a range of welfare crimes last week as the sheriff said his office are now preparing to collect nearly $600,000 in stolen welfare funds by the end of the year.

Police working with the Department of Social Services’ fraud investigations unit charged the defendants with a total of 20 felonies accounting for $58,517 in stolen funds, said Apple. So far this year, the sheriff has made arrests totaling $148,627 worth of social service funds, he said.

“We have a $150,000 so far this year. At this rate, we’ll have about $600,000 by the end of the year,” said Apple. “Times are tough and there are people out there who need these programs. It’s the people committing fraud who put these programs in jeopardy,” he added.

Of those arrested, Myers was accused of stealing the lowest amount in the group, $740. He was charged with first-degree offering a false instrument for filing, a felony, and with two misdemeanors, fifth-degree welfare fraud and petit larceny. Apple said Myers failed to report his income while working side jobs and collecting social services benefits.

Also arrested, Yolanda Richardson, 36, of Westerlo Street, Albany, was charged with stealing the largest amount among the defendants, $15,066. She was charged with third-degree grand larceny, welfare fraud and with first-degree offering a false instrument for filing, all felonies. Apple said she failed to report her residence and was selling her benefits.

Apple said the number of social service arrests and the amount of funds involved has been increasing for about the last year-and-a-half. The cases are first handled by the county’s Department of Social Services, which has a civilian investigations team examine the agency’s internal paperwork and respond to tips of possible fraud.

“The more arrests, usually, the more people are getting turned in,” said Apple. “After getting caught, two or three of them will say, ‘They’re doing it, too.’ We’ll go look and find more arrests.”

After the social service investigators reach a point where they are ready to charge a person with a crime the agency contacts law enforcement officers to help complete the case and make arrests.

Before making arrests, the sheriff said, police and social services staff paid close attention to what evidence would be presented in court.

“We want to make sure it’s arrestable and convictable. We aren’t just looking for probable cause; we want a sealed case,” said Apple. In many of the cases, Apple said, many of the crimes are recorded on documentation submitted by the defendants to the agency or the cases included similar paperwork trails, essentially capturing the alleged frauds in “black and white.”

The sheriff went on to explain that, as the caseload for social service crimes has increased, so has the demand for additional time from his staff. One of the reasons he said investigators sought solid cases to prosecute was to make more efficient use of time.

Apple said he was also exploring the creation of a bill to give more legal authority to social service investigators. He is working to contact lawmakers in the State Assembly and Senate who might support or sponsor such a bill.

“I’m going to petition local assemblymen to draft the legislation,” said Apple. “The legislation would make the (social service) investigators peace officers.”

He explained the law would grant social service fraud units the power to carry firearms, assist police on arrests, and allow more access to law-enforcement databases during investigations. Such a law would also help the sheriff and other law-enforcement agencies cut back on the staff needed to investigate welfare-related crimes.

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