Welfare fraud suspect pleads not guilty

FRESNO, Calif.

Action News broke the story on the alleged welfare fraud almost two weeks ago. Court documents and an order for disciplinary action reveal an extensive investigation into /*Michael Martin*/, who recently resigned from his job as an eligibility worker for Fresno County.

Martin had very little to say as he and his wife, /*Dawn Griffin*/, pled not guilty to the 29 counts against them.

Martin left the county courthouse through a back stairway to avoid reporters, and walked past our camera without answering any questions.

In the courtroom, we weren't allowed to get video of his face or his wife's. Griffin was arrested on a warrant Monday and is still in the Fresno County jail. Her husband was released for overcrowding and was allowed to stay out of jail Tuesday.

Documents uncovered by Action News show Martin is accused of approving benefits for 25 family members, neighbors and acquaintances -- against county policy. He's also accused of issuing almost $40,000 in food stamp benefits to 24 members of last year's Fresno State football team, and two other college athletes.

An order for disciplinary action says the athletes were ineligible for benefits because they were full-time students, but Martin left that out of their applications. His attorney says Martin is innocent until proven otherwise.

"There are myriad forms that need to be filled out and numbers of questions that need to be answered in order to be eligible for benefits," said Ruth Edginton. "If those forms or questions have given rise to any discrepancies, Mr. Martin is looking forward to explaining those discrepancies."

Fresno State officials say there's no indication that any NCAA violation has occurred. But the athletes who are still at the school have been disciplined for violating the code of conduct.

County supervisor Henry Perea told Action News Monday he wants people who received the benefits to pay the money back. Fresno State says that issue is up to the district attorney's office.

Legislators tell Action News state law allows county workers to keep their retirement benefits, even if they're accused of embezzling.

County retirement officials say they will follow state law in this case, so Martin could still be getting money from Fresno County for years to come.

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