Six arrested for allegedly defrauding county social services

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A law enforcement sweep of Nassau County led to the arrest of six people who allegedly claimed thousands of dollars in social service benefits for which they were ineligible, Acting Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas’s office announced Wednesday. 

Among those arrested were Ana Ventura, 37, of Roslyn Heights, Cindy Sarelis, 38, of New Hyde Park, Yessika Gana, 59, of Port Washington and Ralph Benabou, 67, and Donna Benabou, 54, both of Plandome.

“For every person defrauding taxpayers by getting benefits they are not entitled to receive, there are many more struggling Nassau residents that play by the rules as they seek to care for themselves and their families,” Singas said in a statement. “My office will continue to work with our government partners to defend the integrity of Nassau’s social service system and protect the taxpayers that fund it.”

Authorities said Ventura received $60,014 in Medicaid and day care benefits she did not qualify for between October 2011 and April 2013 after failing to disclose her husband’s income and that she was living with him. 

The Department of Social Services received an alert that Ventura was residing with her husband, and a subsequent investigation by the DA’s office found her husband’s yearly income of about $58,000 made her ineligible for the benefits, authorities said. 

Ventura faces charges of second-degree welfare fraud, second-degree grand larceny and first-degree offering a false instrument for filing, all felonies. 

Sarelis received $39,826 in Food Stamp and day care benefits between April 2011 and August 2013 after not disclosing Social Security income and allegedly submitting forged letters from the deceased father of her children, according to authorities.  

An investigation by the DA’s office found that Sarelis received a total of $1,900 per month in Social Security death benefits for her three children, but did not notify the Department of Social Services about the payments, according to authorities. They said Sarelis also submitted forged letters from her children’s father — after his death— saying he paid her $100 per month in child support. 

With the monthly Social Security payments, Sarelis’ household income would have made her ineligible for the benefits. She faces charges of third-degree welfare fraud, third-degree grand larceny, second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and first-degree offering a false instrument for filing, all felonies.

Authorities said Yessika Gana collected $37,288 in Medicaid benefits between January 2006 and January 2014 but failed to notify the Department of Social Services she was living with the father of her two children and of his income, which would have rendered her ineligible for the benefits.

She faces charges of third-degree welfare fraud, third-degree grand larceny and first-degree offering a false instrument for filing. 

Raphael and Donna Benabou, who are married, received $20,175.29 in Department of Social Services benefits between August 2010 and January 2013 but failed to disclose thousands of dollars in monthly income from interest and dividends, authorities said, adding the Benabous also “concealed they were receiving a monthly IRA distribution of more than $1,500.” Their actual income would have exceeded the threshold to qualify for the government-subsidized Family Health Plus, according to authorities. 

The Benabous face charges of third-degree welfare fraud, third degree grand larceny and first-degree offering a false instrument for filing. 

“Despite the fact that time and time again we inform the public that those who cheat the system will be caught and prosecuted, some continue to question our determination to root out fraud and abuse,” Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said in a statement. “I again say to those who would steal money from the neediest of our citizens: you will be caught and prosecuted, and the money you’ve stolen will be returned to our taxpayers.”

The cases were all referred to the district attorney’s office by the Nassau County Department of Social Services.

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