KHQ Investigates how welfare fraud cases are handled

On Friday afternoon, we went back to Rachel Dolezal's house for one purpose: to give her another chance to tell her side of the story.  But as of Friday afternoon, we had no answers from her.

So instead, KHQ spoke with Washington's Senior Director of Fraud and Accountability Steve Lowe-- whose job is to uncover welfare fraud and figure out the motives behind it. 

What led investigators knocking on Dolezal's door? It's her book, "In Full Color."  The investigator told KHQ that he knew that a typical publishing contract was between $10,000-$20,000. 

"There's always a different twist on a case that comes through. Yes, there are cases that come through that you just decide "Did they really think they could get away with something like that?'” Washington State Department of Social and Health Services Senior Director of Fraud and Accountability Steve Lowe told KHQ in a phone interview.

But in most cases they didn't have evidence that's so cut and dried.

"We in the last year, we handled about 12-thousand referrals and about 100-150 end up in a county prosecutor's office and U.S. attorney offices," Lowe added.

Why such a low ratio of referrals? It's because out of the 12,000 referrals only half ever get investigated. Even that small percent can reap big dividends for taxpayers.

In 2017, 133 cases were prosecuted last year. Washington courts ordered more than $2.5 million in restitution.

“The statute is the same for pretty much welfare fraud as it is for any fraud. If someone steals something more than a certain amount it becomes a felony charge and that's the same whether it's welfare benefits or if your stealing from you're employer, for example,” said Lowe.

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