WELFARE PAID FOR UPSCALE LIFESTYLE

Colonie woman says she did nothing intentionally wrong to get $95G in aid

ROBERT GAVIN STAFF WRITER
Section: Capital Region,  Page: B1

Date: Tuesday, March 1, 2011

ALBANY -- A Colonie woman who allegedly reaped about $95,000 in welfare benefits to support an upscale lifestyle admittedly failed to report more than $50,000 in four of her children's bank accounts -- or the monthly $2,226 she earned off the books, court papers show.


Angela Lopez, 37, argued she did nothing wrong intentionally.


"I was unaware that I needed to report the children's bank accounts," Lopez told an Albany County welfare fraud investigator in a statement she signed Oct. 19, 2009. "I didn't report this income because my husband was not working and I thought I was under the income levels for food stamps and Medicaid."


Prosecutors allege Lopez bilked approximately $65,000 from the Albany County Department of Social Services after she applied for Medicaid and food stamps without disclosing her full income.


And they say she scammed the Social Security Administration of approximately $29,000 after failing to report income earned and property owned when she applied for Supplemental Security Income benefits.


In a handwritten statement to a federal agent for the Social Security Administration, Lopez noted her economic plight.


"I know we struggle and never have extra (money)," she stated. "It only goes to bills. We were way below income to be eligible for Medicaid ... I did not know about any guidelines for SSI. I was informed differently today."


Lopez, a mother of five, faces 7 1/3 to 20 years in state prison if convicted of welfare fraud, grand larceny and other charges in a 19-count indictment. She previously rejected a plea offer of 2 to 6 years in prison.


The two sworn statements Lopez provided to welfare investigators were the subject of a pre-trial hearing Monday in Albany County Court to determine if her statements should be allowed at trial.


The Oct. 19, 2009 statement to Albany County Welfare Fraud Unit Investigator Jason Fazio stated that Lopez opened Keybank accounts for four of her children with her as the custodian. While the sum total of the accounts exceeded $50,000, Lopez said she continued to recertify her need for food stamps seven times through April 2009, the documents show.


Lopez told Fazio she did not know she needed to report the children's accounts for food stamps, nor realize she needed to report the accounts to get Medicaid. She said she recertified her need for Medicaid, the publicly funded health care program for the poor, between December 2005 and December 2008.


Lopez also reported she was unaware of the assessed value of a property she and her husband bought in Colonie. And she stated being unaware of the value of a property her husband purchased in Florida until the investigator mentioned it to her.


"I failed to report these on all of the Medicaid and food stamp applications and recertifications under the 'resource' section on the above listed documents," her statement said.


Lopez reported earning an average of $2,226 monthly while working off the books for a man named Harold Link -- and failed to report it on food stamp and Medicaid forms.


During the hearing, Lopez's attorney, David Brickman, quizzed Fazio as to whether Lopez asked for an attorney before he took the statement. He said the woman asked if she should ask for an attorney.


Lopez declined to comment on Monday.


When Lopez appeared in court in November, she was clad in a black pinstripe suit with a Louis Vuitton designer handbag. At the time, the Times Union reported that she lived in a two-story house in Colonie that had a Silver Lincoln Navigator and Jeep Cherokee in the driveway. A blue Dodge Ram pickup truck was on the property, as was a small boat and an above-ground swimming pool.


Reach Robert Gavin at 434-2403 or rgavin@timesunion.com.