Woman pleads guilty to welfare fraud after failing to disclose marriage, assets

By Kaitlin Mulhere, The Keene Sentinel
Posted Jan. 28, 2013, at 6:49 a.m.

KEENE, N.H. — A Keene woman was ordered to pay nearly $80,000 in fines and restitution after she pleaded guilty Friday to fraud charges.

Heather E. Melander, 43, was charged with class A misdemeanors welfare fraud and unsworn falsification after she knowingly failed to disclose information about a marriage and access to bank accounts that would have made her ineligible for benefits, including Medicaid benefits for herself and three children.

Based on an agreement between the state and her attorney, Melander was sentenced to two consecutive 12-month jail sentences for the two charges, both suspended for five years if she maintains good behavior.

She also had to pay $2,480 in fines and court fees and $54,731.32 in restitution to the state of New Hampshire, plus another $2,480 in fines and court fees and $20,268.28 in restitution to the U.S. Social Security Administration.

The agreement required Melander to pay all those by check Friday.

Assistant Cheshire County Attorney John M. Gasaway Jr. told Cheshire County Superior Court Judge John C. Kissinger that the state Department of Health and Human Services received written complaints about Melander’s lifestyle in 2011.

Fraud investigators from the department and from the federal Social Security Administration then investigated Melander and found income and resources inconsistent with those Melander put on her welfare applications, Gasaway said. Investigators also found proof of a wedding ceremony between Melander and Daniel Kaplan of Keene in August 2007.

Through that marriage, Melander had joint access since 2006 to a large checking account at Bank of America, in addition to her own checking account at Savings Bank of Walpole, which she listed as her only account on welfare applications, Gasaway said. The investigation included looking up the entrepreneurial background and financial success of Kaplan, he said.

Kaplan owns a consulting company and has started several publishing companies, according to his company’s website. After the hearing, Melander’s attorney William E. Christie said the case involved a complex regulatory system in which Melander was receiving health benefits for her minor children. She didn’t disclose a bank account and “in retrospect, she realized this failure was an error and fully accepted responsibility for this mistake,” he said.

Under the agreement, Melander is ineligible for welfare benefits for five years, starting Friday. She also is required to complete any counseling and education ordered by the state, and to tour the N.H. State Prison.

The agreement absolves Melander of all criminal liability between 2007 and 2012, including that related to the sale of a home on Court Street and insurance claims from car crashes in 2009, 2010 and 2011, Gasaway said.

Gasaway told Kissinger that Melander’s lack of a criminal record and cooperation with the investigation were factors in the plea and sentencing agreement.

At her hearing, Melander only spoke to answer the judge’s questions. Kissinger said he recognized Melander’s willingness to take responsibility and noted she would have faced significant time in prison had the case gone to trial.

Distributed by MCT Information Services

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/01/28/news/nation/woman-pleads-guilty-to-welfare-fraud-after-failing-to-disclose-marriage-assets/ printed on December 28, 2014