The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

September 21, 2010
In Home Supportive Services fraud task force nabs 60 defendants

A Sacramento County task force created to root out fraud in a fast-growing social service program announced it has filed criminal cases against 60 defendants for about $780,000 in fraud in the past year.

Those cases have so far led to 40 people being sentenced for fraud-related crimes and to the ordered restitution of more than $500,000 in funds.

The statistics were part of the first annual report from the In Home Supportive Services Fraud Task Force to the Board of Supervisors. The supervisors created the task force a year ago to increase scrutiny on the ballooning social service program that aims to keep elderly and disabled residents in their homes and out of institutions.

The task force is headed by the District Attorney's Office and includes staff from the Department of Human Assistance and the Department of Health and Human Services.

"There are many opportunities for fraud in this program," said Laura West, a deputy district attorney, addressing the supervisors at their Tuesday meeting. The state tried to make a program that was easy for some of the most vulnerable residents to use, but in doing so created opportunities for fraud, she said.

Sacramento County is one of the few counties that has been able to reduce the cost of IHSS cases, West told the board. The county lowered costs 2.2 percent from fiscal year 2008-09 to 2009-10 while other comparable counties saw annual increases. Santa Clara County's costs went up 3.2 percent, Alameda's went up 5.7 percent and Ventura's went up 6.5 percent.

There were a number of factors that contributed to the reduction, including the task force's efforts, West said. The reduction saved the county about $1.1 million in local funds.

Supervisor Roger Dickinson pointed out that the fraud amount is minuscule when compared to the overall size of the program. A $1.1 million savings is a fraction of a percent of the total case expenses that far exceed $200 million a year.

Dickinson also pointed out that 60 criminal defendants are less than half a percent of all care providers. The figures would seem to refute the argument made by those who assail the program - often those on the right seeking to slash the program - which is that as much 25 percent of the costs for the program go to fraud, Dickinson said.

"These numbers don't even start to scratch the surface of that figure," Dickinson said.

--Robert Lewis

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