AUBURN, Maine — Maine woman Kathleen Schidzig has pleaded no contest to welfare fraud and forgery, a plea allowing her to avoid making an admission of guilt while also acknowledging she could be found guilty at trial by a reasonable judge or jury. The plea will be recorded as a conviction of guilt in court records.
Schidzig, 31, was scheduled for trial in Androscoggin County Superior Court on Monday, but entered into a plea agreement with the Attorney General’s Office before the jury was selected. According to court records, she was facing felony charges of fraud and forgery and three misdemeanor charges of unsworn falsification for allegedly false statements she attested to on Department of Health and Human Services applications for social services.
The three misdemeanor charges have been dismissed as part of the plea deal, and the felony forgery charge has been dropped to misdemeanor forgery. The felony fraud charge remains intact.
According to court records, between October 2007 and February 2010, Schidzig schemed to defraud the state by falsifying applications for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Additional Support for People in Retraining and Education.
She did this by misleading DHHS about her relationship with Kenneth Hardy, 30, the father of three of Schidzig’s four children, through false written statements that he was not a member of their household and did not provide financial support to the home or the children.
In her applications for more than $10,000 in state assistance, Schidzig said Hardy, who works as a mason, lived in Houlton and she was raising their children as a single parent, qualifying her for assistance. In her applications, she notes her occupation as a student.
Hardy has not been charged in this case.
The forgery conviction stems from Schidzig’s presentation of a forged letter of employment, purporting to be from an assistant manager at the Lisbon Street Burger King restaurant, to DHHS as part of her application for social services in December 2009.
Schidzig is scheduled to be sentenced in Superior Court on Thursday, May 19, and faces a maximum of 10 years in jail and $20,000 in fines on the felony fraud conviction, and up to a year in jail and $2,000 in fines on the forgery charge.
According to Assistant Attorney General Peter Black, Schidzig has asked for a hearing for the court to determine the exact amount of stolen money because the figure DHHS believes she has stolen is significantly different from the amount Schidzig contends she took.
That hearing will also take place on May 19, the result of which will be used to determine restitution of the missing funds.
According to Schidzig’s court-appointed attorney, Amanda Doherty of Portland, at issue in the hearing for restitution will be sorting out the $20,000 difference between what Kathleen thinks she may be responsible for and what the state is claiming she is responsible for.
In order to have the best chance at paying restitution, Doherty will argue for a significantly reduced jail sentence for her client, followed by probation. The prosecutor is asking Schidzig to serve a year in jail, Doherty said, but “we think that is excessive, especially given the fact that it would significantly reduce her ability to pay anything back.”
Doherty said Schidzig struggled with the decision to enter the no contest plea, but agreed to the terms “to protect herself from the possibility of going away for a long time” and being without her children.
If Schidzig is sentenced to jail time, Doherty said she has an extended family and friend support system to care for her children, and “Kenneth Hardy is around and able to help. She is fortunate in that she has family support.”
During the time Schidzig defrauded the state, she was living in apartments in Lewiston on Oak Street in 2007, Oxford Street in 2008 and College Street in 2009. In December 2009, Schidzig, Hardy and their children moved into a rented house on Spring Street.
They were forced to move from that home in April 2010 when raw sewage filled the basement and ran through the backyard, and bedbugs had infested the property. The city of Lewiston condemned the building, ruling it unfit for occupancy, and the family left their possessions — including clothes, electronics, toys, appliances and furniture — rather than move the bedbug infestation to their new apartment in Portland.
Staff writer Christopher Williams contributed to this report.