WORTHINGTON — A Worthington resident was arrested last week after Nobles County Community Services reported possible welfare fraud.
The county told law enforcement in May that they had received a tip that Maria Castillo-Hernandez had been receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits since 2016 — claiming that she was not working and had no income — but was in fact working under a false name.
During its investigation, law enforcement discovered that the false name and social security number belonged to a real person, a Maryland resident who had already filed claims of identity theft with multiple entities.
In June, officers learned that Castillo-Hernandez was working in Estherville, Iowa under the stolen identity. When local law enforcement approached the person working under that name last month, she reportedly revealed her true name and told officers that her friend Maria had given her the stolen identity.
A detective with the Nobles County Sheriff's Office located Castillo-Hernandez Aug. 6 and placed her under arrest on the grounds that while receiving welfare from the county, she was working under a stolen identity during several time periods since 2016. She is also accused of giving the stolen identity to a friend.
Nobles County Community Services calculated that Castillo-Hernandez fraudulently received a total of $25,756. She was charged with five criminal offenses: theft through wrongfully obtaining assistance and three counts of forgery, all felonies, and misdemeanor identity theft. If convicted of the most serious charge — theft — Castillo-Hernandez faces a maximum possible sentence of 10 years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine, but sentencing will be determined based on her criminal record.
Castillo-Hernandez was released from Nobles County Jail Aug. 7 after posting conditional bail of $2,000.