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Lotto winner charged with fraud–for collecting welfare benefits

• April 16, 2012 11:36 am

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A New York lottery winner has been charged with welfare fraud and two other felonies, after the man collected Medicaid and other benefits for more than six months, WIVB reports:

NALINA SHAPIRO: Fourteen years ago, 37-year-old Anthony Palermo’s dream came true. He won the lottery’s "Win for Life" scratch-off game. The Albion man has been collecting $1,000 every week and has collected nearly $750,000 to date. Here’s the twist: For the last seven months, he’s also been collecting thousands of dollars in state aid meant for the poor.

CHUCK NESBITT: In Orleans County we take this very seriously, and if you want to try and cheat the system, this is not the place to do it.

SHAPIRO: Orleans Chief Administrative Officer Chuck Nesbitt says the now 51-year-old Palermo began accessing Medicaid, HEAP, and emergency cash assistance benefits last September. So he’s asking for this assistance and at the same time, he’s still getting that $1,000 a week?

NESBITT: That’s correct and he failed to report it on his applications.

SHAPIRO: An anonymous tip set off their investigation. Yesterday, Palermo was arrested and charged with welfare fraud and two other felonies. Nesbitt in part blames the state’s lenient rules when it comes to Medicaid applications.

NESBITT: Most recently, the state has rolled back some of the requirements in terms of Medicaid eligibility. In fact, applicants don’t even have to appear in person now. They can fill out an application online and begin receiving Medicaid.

SHAPIRO: He says it’s a big problem and thinks the state could do more. So it’s pretty easy for somebody else to do this.

NESBITT: It’s very easy.

SHAPIRO: It’s still unclear what motivated Palermo, who’s guaranteed at least a $1 million from his winnings. Whatever the reason, this story has sparked a passionate debate on our Facebook page. Sarah writes, "Make him pay it all back," while Judith says, "So sad when you think of the countless honest people who work their tails off for far less than $1,000 per week!" Palermo will be back in court next week.