Y2K FalseHood Used To Lure Felons

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NorthWest Headlines


It seemed like a good deal. Cash bonuses and transportation reimbursements were offered to people to renew their food stamps at the Gus Solomon Federal Courthouse in Portland.

A letter said their food stamp information had been lost due to Y2K computer conversion. Twenty-eight recipients of the letter showed up and were arrested for outstanding felony warrants. The sting was part of a program that arrests fugitives who illegally receive food stamps.

Multnomah County Commissioner Serena Cruz says she has no problem with the sheriff's deputies enforcing felony warrants, but says it's unethical to use food stamps as a lure for the offenders. ----------------------------------------------

-- Ashton & Leska (allaha@earthlink.net), February 03, 2000


And why would it be deemed unethical? Food stamps are paid for by money taken from you and me to provide for those not able to buy food for themselves. Should not the violators of this charity be stopped? Good grief!

-- Who me (Who me@home.tax), February 03, 2000.

I wonder how many Tb2000ers collect food stamps.

-- wondering (about@you.guys), February 03, 2000.

This "style" of law enforcement is not uncommon--and, it is effective. There is one similar case where letters were sent out to people stating they had won a contest, and that they should pick up their prize at a specific location. Balloons and a banquet hall were set up, etc. Once everyone arrived and was counted for--BAM--Busted!

I guess in the above case, Crime *didn't* pay. =)

-- Dee (T1Colt556@aol.com), February 03, 2000.

What's of interest here is that the police assumed (correctly it would seem) that using Y2K as an excuse would be *believable* to the people they wanted to catch. This suggests that Y2K has certainly penetrated the "mass conciousness" as a plausible cause of annoying glitches, especially coming from a large government bureaucracy.

Odd news item, but fascinating nonetheless for what it indirectly tells us.

--Andre in southcentral Pennsylvania

-- Andre Weltman (72320.1066@compuserve.com), February 03, 2000.

"I wonder how many Tb2000ers collect food stamps."

My food stamps are green and have presidential pictures on them...

-- Powder (Powder47keg@aol.com), February 03, 2000.

I have cans and cans of food and MREs--don't need stamps. I do think that people who don't have money should have food to eat. But, obviously, not obtained by fraud. I wonder if they still have the supplemental food programs in which they give out surplus food like cheese and such.

Also, the WIC program--women infants and children--is a very important one that has received many cuts in recent history. I'm not sure how recipients are determined. I do think they sometimes measure children for being undernourished. Children undernourished?? Is that awful or what??? People who complain about THEIR taxes dollars going to programs such as these don't understand where much of the money goes.

-- Mara (MaraWayne@aol.com), February 03, 2000.

In Oregon, we have an "Oregon Trail" card, like a credit card, the money is put in on computer. You use it at the store. In Portland, they also have cash benefits on the card. Also, they make recipients do "volunteer" work for 20 hours or more a month to sort of repay the money. Plus you look for 10 contacts a month, which is hard in a small coastal area where I live. Same places every other month sort of.

-- Deja (dejawho@harborside.com), February 03, 2000.

Andre Weltman, yes, you understand why we posted this.

-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (allaha@earthlink.net), February 03, 2000.


Lie laced with enticements lures fugitive felons to sting

A letter referring to Y2K problems with food stamp files is part of a federal-local operation to round up offenders

Wednesday, February 2, 2000

By Mark Larabee and Robin Franzen of The Oregonian staff

The Jan. 14 letter to 450 Multnomah County fugitives opened with this lie: "Due to the Y2K computer conversion, eligibility information retained in your 1999 food stamp file was lost."

Lured by promises of "cash bonuses" and transportation reimbursement, 28 recipients of the letter showed up Jan. 24 and 25 to renew their food stamps at the Gus Solomon Federal Courthouse on Southwest Broadway.

But there was no Y2K glitch. Instead, police officers dressed in business suits arrested the takers for outstanding felony warrants.

"They were duped," but many weren't surprised, said Capt. Brian Martinek, spokesman for Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Noelle. "We have to do that. They are hiding from us."

Part of Operation Talon, the federal government's roundup of fugitive felons who are illegally receiving food stamps, the sting drew fierce criticism Tuesday from some county officials who learned only recently of the county's participation.

"I have no dispute with the sheriff enforcing those warrants," said Multnomah County Commissioner Serena Cruz, who criticized the operation at Tuesday's county public-safety briefing. But "linking data with people's sustenance issues in order to arrest them is the government lying to people," she said. "To use that (hunger) need to arrest someone is unethical and immoral."

Under the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, people wanted for felonies are ineligible to receive government assistance, including food stamps.

The act also requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the food stamp program, to work with local police on apprehending food stamp recipients who missed court dates or are wanted for felonies. Multnomah County has a backlog of more than 38,000 felony and misdemeanor warrants.

Under Operation Talon, the USDA pays for local police overtime and has agents of its own working with teams of deputies from Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties, as well as the Portland Police Bureau. This week, they are trying to make more arrests using addresses from food stamp applications.

Martinek said 155 people had been arrested through Tuesday afternoon.

On Tuesday morning in Southeast Portland, Multnomah County Sheriff's Sgt. Ned Walls, Deputy Bret Lort and a USDA agent knocked on door after door looking for people with outstanding warrants.

Sometimes they'd knock and no one was home. Other times the person who answered would give a different address. The police went from address to address until the trail ran cold, then they'd pick another name and start again. After four hours, they had made no arrests, though other teams working at the same time had made several.

"Big surprise," Walls said. "Criminals give us the wrong addresses."

As many as 3,000 felons have been arrested nationwide under Operation Talon, according to the USDA's inspector general. In Multnomah County, police matched 1,500 fugitives with food stamp applications. Only those with multiple felonies or person-to-person crimes were included in the sting; misdemeanants and low-level felons were excluded.

David Dickson, senior agent in charge of the inspector general's Western region, said there was no way for government to lose in such a federal-local partnership. "You're getting people off the street who need to answer for their crimes," he said, "and you're getting people out of the welfare system that shouldn't be there."

Yet, while even critics agree that police should track down people with outstanding warrants, some don't think lying is right, especially when public servants do it. It could even scare more citizens away from participating in the 2000 census, Cruz said. "Can they trust that we won't share the information with the IRS or immigration?" she said. "How are they to believe that government isn't lying to them?"

Multnomah County Commissioner Diane Linn called the sting tactic "unconscionable." She thinks felony fugitives shouldn't be eligible for food stamps but also worries about cutting off food to innocent children and spouses.

"Government is bold-face lying to people, when we already have serious trust issues with citizens," she said. "It's one of the deepest frustrations of public office. I've got to believe there's a better way to get the job done."

But Dickson said he'd heard no such complaints from politicians in Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz., and in San Francisco, the cities where he's supervised Operation Talon projects.

"Congress has given us this tool and wants us to use it," he said.

"I'm hard pressed to see what the problem is."

-- liars (are@us.gov), February 08, 2000.

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