Y2K traps felons

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Food stamp bust nets 205 suspects

The Associated Press 02/10/00 3:26 AM Eastern

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- A crackdown on food stamp fraud resulted in 205 arrests in Oregon as police joined federal agents to round up fugitives despite concerns about the ethics of tapping welfare roles for tips.

Portland-area police, the Oregon State Police and the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Wednesday they had completed a two-week sweep last Friday.

The sting operation, dubbed Operation Talon, was part of a national roundup of fugitive felons who are illegally receiving food stamps.

But some county officials have complained the crackdown was unethical because state welfare rolls were checked for addresses.

Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Noelle defended the sting and the use of information from a welfare program. He said the sting was safer for both officers and fugitives.

"In this case there is no question that we misled people," he said. "You have to trick them."

Noelle said the U.S. Department of Agriculture just provided addresses. "There was no police scrutiny or review of USDA records," he said. "Those records are still intact."

On Jan. 14, 450 letters were mailed to fugitives in Portland, saying, "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 people showed up Jan. 24 and 25 to renew their food stamps at the federal courthouse downtown, where they were arrested on outstanding felony warrants.

Then teams of officers began tracking down the rest of the fugitives using addresses from the Department of Agriculture.

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 Department of Agriculture, which administers the food stamp program, to work with local police on apprehending food stamp recipients who are wanted.

More than 5,000 felons have been arrested since 1997 in 71 cities, said Greg Seybold, the department's assistant inspector general for investigations.

He also defended the sting, saying that "known criminals are using food stamps to finance their fugitive status and commit further crimes."


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), February 10, 2000

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