Former Lewiston woman gets year in jail for welfare fraud

Posted June 08, 2011, at 5:26 a.m.
Kathleen Schidzig (right) talks with her lawyer, Amanda Doherty, Tuesday morning in the Law Library at the Androscoggin County Superior Courthouse in Auburn. Schidzig was sentenced for defrauding state welfare programs.
Russ Dillingham | Sun Journal
Kathleen Schidzig (right) talks with her lawyer, Amanda Doherty, Tuesday morning in the Law Library at the Androscoggin County Superior Courthouse in Auburn. Schidzig was sentenced for defrauding state welfare programs.

AUBURN, Maine — A former Lewiston woman is expected to spend a year behind bars for defrauding the state’s welfare system for three years.

Kathleen Schidzig, 31, was taken to jail Tuesday after a judge sentenced her to three years with all but one year suspended on a felony charge of theft by deception. She’s expected to be on probation for two years after she’s released from jail. She had faced up to 10 years in prison.

Androscoggin County Superior Court Justice MaryGay Kennedy told Schidzig that her behavior only served to strengthen the argument made by those who believe government shouldn’t spend public money on providing services for struggling parents because they don’t truly deserve it, even though most people don’t actually cheat the system like Schidzig did.

She forged welfare documents and paid people to lie on her behalf, the judge said.

“She stole money from the state of Maine,” Kennedy said. “She was calculating; it was scheming.”

Assistant Attorney General Peter Black presented documents signed by Schidzig claiming her boyfriend and father to three of her children didn’t live with her. But Black called several witnesses, including landlords, a neighbor and an appliance rental representative, who all testified based on their observations that they believed Kenneth Hardy was clearly part of Schidzig’s household.

“I have no doubt Mr. Hardy was in the home,” Kennedy said. She said there was “significant circumstantial evidence” presented by prosecutors to back up that claim.

Kennedy said Schidzig appeared more concerned about wrongs done to her and less about the wrongs done by her as she frequently broke down in tears during her testimony.

“I hear no remorse,” Kennedy said.

Schidzig took the witness stand Tuesday at the end of the roughly 4½-hour hearing.

She said that although Hardy didn’t live with her most of the time, he spent a lot of time at her home with his children, two of whom have disabilities. She said he was a devoted father who was there for his kids when he wasn’t at work. That gave people the false impression that he lived with her, she said. Hardy’s brother did stay in her apartment at times and resembled her boyfriend, Schidzig said. Her 14-year-old son wore clothes that might have been mistaken for Hardy’s, she said.

Schidzig had received reimbursement from the state for repairs to a car she said she needed to get to school. But Black pointed out that she never held a valid driver’s license nor had she registered a car in her name during the time she claimed the benefit.

Black said the Department of Health and Human Services hot line received a tip from a man who said Schidzig had paid him $50 to falsify a repair bill for her car.

Schidzig conceded those points, but claimed she hadn’t been made aware by her caseworker that such things were necessary in order to claim the benefit.

Schidzig admitted to a handful of lapses during which she had received state money for school or child care, but didn’t pay it back even though she hadn’t attended classes or ended up using child care at that time.

She said the amount of money she took dishonestly totaled less than $4,000.

She had told her caseworker when Hardy was around and when he wasn’t, Schidzig said. She didn’t get along well with him and they couldn’t tolerate each other long enough to live together, she said.

Black calculated Schidzig owed roughly $37,000 of the nearly $46,000 paid out to her since 2007. Justice Kennedy doubted Schidzig’s ability to repay the state, but ordered her to pay $100 per month once she is out of jail for a total of $18,000 in restitution.

Amanda Doherty, Schidzig’s attorney, said her client would have difficulty getting a job or going back to school with a felony conviction.

Schidzig also was sentenced to 364 days in jail for a misdemeanor charge of forgery. She is to serve that sentence at the same time as the felony, Kennedy said.

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