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Welfare fraud investigations result in felony charges

WORTHINGTON -- Two Worthington woman were recently charged in Nobles County District Court with felony level wrongfully obtaining assistance charges. The cases are unrelated.

In June 2009, Nobles County Family Services Agency (NCFSA) referred the two cases to law enforcement.

One case suggested that Maria Pedraza, 57, received an overpayment in financial assistance from Nobles County in the amount of $7,406.

The criminal complaint states Pedraza received an overpayment for benefits from the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), the state's welfare reform program for low-income families with children. MFIP helps families move to work and focuses on helping families. It includes both cash and food assistance.

Pedraza also allegedly received health care assistance for which she was not eligible.

"She was not entitled to the amount of benefits she received because she was employed at JBS Swift and Company during those dates," the complaint states. "(She was) using the name 'Sepriana Filledda' and failed to report the income she received from that employment."

Pedraza initially completed a health care application for benefits, then later completed renewal forms and a combined application for assistance. The assistance was for herself and her son. In each application she indicated she was not employed and had no income.

A form completed in October 2008 by Pedraza listed Sepriana Filledda as being in her household and employed at Swift from November 2005 to April 2008. Later, Pedraza allegedly signed a release to authorize Swift to allow access to employment records for Filledda. The records reportedly showed Pedraza worked as Filledda. A staff member at NCFSA also had a medical opinion form that displayed the name Maria Pedraza, aka Sepriana Filledda.

Billing for utilities, used to verify Pedraza's utility expenses, listed the name "Ledda, Sepriana Fil," the complaint states.

When a detective spoke with Pedraza about the benefits she had received, she allegedly said she had never gotten benefits for herself, just for her son. She claimed she had specifically asked a case worker if she was required to list her income and was told that since the benefits were only for her son, she did not have to report the income. She could not identify the person who told her that other than saying it was a "white lady" whom she believed no longer worked at NCFSA.

Pedraza is scheduled to make her first court appearance on the charge next week.

The other case involved a woman, Silvia Rivera Hernandez, 29, who had applied in August 2008 for medical assistance for medical expenses incurred during a pregnancy. The complaint states the pregnancy was the only basis for her eligibility of medical assistance benefits.

When completing pregnancy verification paperwork on or about April 2009, the agency learned Hernandez had miscarried in September 2008. She had allegedly failed to tell the agency the pregnancy had ended and continued to receive the benefit of insurance premiums paid for by NCFSA on her behalf. Insurance premiums totaling $5,823 were paid between November 2008 and May 2009.

"Had (Hernandez) told the agency in September 2008 that she was no longer pregnant, the agency would have immediately discontinued paying the insurance premiums," the complaint states.

When a detective spoke with Hernandez, she allegedly said she thought the doctor would have told the agency she had miscarried. She also said she thought she told a social worker in March 2009 about the miscarriage. She told the detective she never benefitted from the insurance coverage after she lost the baby.

Her first court appearance is scheduled for early March.