Exclusive Fraud Investigation Part 1

December 4, 2008 7:41:40 PM PST
Every day thousands of taxpayer dollars are being spent on people who don't need it. The money is supposed to be helping the elderly and disabled live at home but investigators say frauds are milking the system.                  |   GO TO: Exclusive Fraud Investigation Part 2   |

"In Home Support Services" is a taxpayer funded program. It helps the elderly and disabled live in their homes by paying for aides and nurses. But the district attorney's office tells action news 10-percent of the participants could be abusing the system forcing investigators to get more aggressive.

Action News has obtained surveillance video from undercover investigators. They spent weeks capturing what they believe were frauds. Ruzanna Shaboyan is one person video taped with the DA's hidden cameras. Investigators believed the 55-year-old Fresno woman lied when she claimed to be totally disabled needing people to clean, cook and shop for her.

But prosecutor Mike Elder calls Ruzanna a fraud. Elder said, "She doesn't qualify for the program, so she shouldn't be receiving any benefits." Even though Ruzanna claimed she can't move on her own, the video captured in 2004 showed her having a yard sale, going grocery shopping, closing a garage door and cleaning her own home. According to the prosecutor, she received 15-hundred dollars a month from "In Home Support Services" or "IHSS". Now look at Ruzanna when the DA asked her to come in for a few questions. She appeared in a walker barely able to move on her own, a striking difference from the same woman seen on surveillance video about a month earlier. Elder said, "A person who is fully capable, standing on a street corner, selling articles ... lifting grocery bags, sweeping the porch is obviously not in need of the type of care 'IHSS' is intended to provide."

Elder is trying to battle fraud in "IHSS"- a government program that is supposed to help the elderly and disabled live on their own instead of in expensive nursing facilities. To get more answers about Ruzanna's case, Action News went to her home in November. She did not speak English and relied on her daughter-in-law Tatvik Tovmasuin for a defense. Tovmasuin said, "She can't go and work for America. If they don't want to care of her, what is she going to do? They're going to let her die?" The reporter said, "But we saw her on video selling stuff on the side of the roadway, lifting groceries, opening the garage door. So it looks like she can do some things." Tovmasuin said, "She could hold a bag, but not boxes of it, and the selling it wasn't her. She was just sitting down."

Ruzanna was convicted of grand theft four years ago. She is still serving probation. Her family must pay more than $100,000 in restitution.

Elder said, "We're not going to stand for it anymore. We have to stop it." Elder estimates 1500 "IHSS" recipients may be defrauding the system. He plans to offer fewer plea bargains and ask for tougher punishments. Elder also showed us video shot four years ago of a 65-year-old man. Elder said the man told social workers he can't do anything on his own. Elder said, "And here he is out on the side of his house, taking hundreds of pounds of a washer machine and dragging it across the drive way."

A judge convicted the man of grand theft and ordered him to repay tax payers more than $17,000 dollars. It's video like this that is motivating the DA's office. Elder says every dollar wasted on fraud takes away from those who really need help.

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