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Eleven charged in scheme to use EBT cards stolen from mental health residents

ALBANY - Two New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) employees and nine other individuals, are charged with the illegal use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards belonging to residents living in mental health facilities in Syracuse and Dewitt.  Altogether more than $17,000 in fraudulent purchases were made over a two year period with the cards.

New York State Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott, who also serves as New York State’s Acting Welfare Inspector General, said: “The act of stealing from a system designed to help those who legitimately require assistance is egregious enough.  But to steal cards from people who are totally dependent on your care is particularly deplorable.  These alleged acts are made worse still by selling the cards to others who take advantage of the system for their own benefit.  I will continue to work closely with Onondaga District Attorney William Fitzpatrick and his office to ensure the defendants are held fully accountable for any criminal acts committed, and that restitution is made.”

Among those arrested was Alphonso Bradshaw, 62, of Syracuse, a Therapy Aide for Hutchings Psychiatric Center (HPC) community residences located in the Syracuse area.  He allegedly stole EBT cards from nine HPC residents in his care and sold them to friends and family for half the value of the benefits on the cards.  Bradshaw was charged with felony counts of criminal possession of stolen property in the fourth degree and the misuse of food stamps, and misdemeanor counts of misuse of food stamps, official misconduct, and conspiracy in the fifth degree.

Ethalyn Crowder, 51, a Therapy Aide at HPC from Syracuse, was charged with stealing an HPC resident’s card and making multiple unauthorized purchases. She was charged with a felony count of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fourth Degree, and misdemeanor counts of Misuse of Food Stamps and Official Misconduct.

Inspector General Scott’s investigation revealed that multiple unlawful purchases were made with these cards in the Syracuse region, and that the HPC residents who owned the EBT cards were completely unaware their cards were being used.  The total in unauthorized charges – which reached $17,332.90 and included large purchases of items such as crab legs, steak and shrimp – took place between January 2012 and February 2014.

In New York State, EBT cards are used by the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) to deliver SNAP and cash benefits to those who qualify.  SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps, and cash benefits are deposited into qualified recipients’ electronic benefit accounts.  These benefits can be accessed at participating ATM machines and stores throughout New York using an EBT card.