LEWISTON, Maine — A judge dismissed more than a dozen welfare fraud charges against a Lewiston man just days before his trial was supposed to begin, the Sun Journal reports.
In a ruling dated May 14, Judge Susan Oram ordered the charges dropped after prosecutors noted in pretrial communications that Maine Department of Health and Human Services caseworkers may have improperly completed the man’s applications for benefits.
As a result, all but two charges against Abdi Hassan, 47, of Lewiston have been dismissed.
Hassan’s trial on 15 welfare fraud charges originally was scheduled to start Monday. He is still expected to go to trial on a felony count of theft by deception involving subsidies from Lewiston Housing Authority and a felony count of negotiating a worthless instrument in connection with writing bad checks, according to the Sun Journal.
Late last week, his attorneys asked Oram to dismiss all charges after prosecutors disclosed DHHS caseworkers might have completed and portions of application forms for Hassan, including signing them. On Sunday, Oram dismissed all charges related to DHHS claims.
“I shudder to think about the extent in which this may be going on in other cases,” lead defense attorney James Howaniec said during Friday’s hearing on the request to dismiss the charges.
Under Gov. Paul LePage, DHHS has emphasized investigation of potential fraud and misuse of public benefits. The governor has made tougher oversight of public assistance programs a cornerstone of his administration.
Assistant Attorney General Darcy Mitchell alerted Oram to the irregularities on the application forms at Friday’s hearing. Mitchell said it would be “premature” to say any employee forged a signature, the Sun Journal reported.
“There is no suggestion that the late disclosure of this information is the result of any bad faith or improper effort to conceal information on the part of the (assistant attorneys general) involved in the this case,” Oram wrote. “Nevertheless, both the nature of the information and the timing of the disclosure cause the court grave concern.”