Thursday, October 25 2012 11:15 PM EDT2012-10-26 03:15:15 GMT
Food stamps are something Dave Brinegar never expected to collect until his current wife's military job forced their relocation from Missouri to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, just outside Seattle, Washington.More >
A military family in Washington fell on tough economic times and needed food stamps, but discovered someone in Missouri was already collecting their aid. KCTV5 News launched an investigation into the food stamp fraud. More >
MEXICO, MO (KCTV) -
More than one year ago, KCTV5 News discovered that tax dollars for needy families were going elsewhere.
Now, one woman will have to pay thousands upon thousands of dollars back.
Carmen Cash did not have a lot to say as she walked into a mid-Missouri courtroom Monday, charged with taking public benefits meant for children.
In October 2012, Cash told KCTV5 investigative reporter Eric Chaloux that she was no longer receiving benefits. She flat out denied receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Family (TANF) money.
Cash's children didn't live in Missouri, but state social services kept mailing her checks.
Instead, her children lived on a military base just outside of Seattle, WA. That was where Chaloux met their dad, Dave Brinegar.
"Finally the decision was made," Brinegar said. "We've got to do something."
Brinegar says after swallowing pride to apply, he was sucker-punched when benefits were denied when he discovered Cash's scheme.
"Made my third complaint, third email to the fraud place," Brinegar said.
"Zero replies?" Chaloux asked.
"I've heard nothing" Brinegar confirmed.
When Missouri's Social Services didn't help, Brinegar reached out to KCTV5 News which led to social service investigators picking up the case and criminal charges.
That Seattle military family's struggle was heard by Missouri's auditors.
A state investigation later launched into how social services looks into suspected TANF fraud found the state had lax oversight to investigate fraud.
Now, social services has re-vamped their enforcement efforts because of the audit, sending more suspected fraud cases to county prosecutors.
"It's taking money that she was using, that those kids could've had ... or that other kids could've had, that other Audrian county families could of had and should've had," said Audrian County prosecutor Jacob Shellabarger.
Shellabarger says he kept Cash's children in mind and fought for them in the courtroom.
Cash entered a guilty plea, avoiding jail time with probation but has to pay back more than $12,000 in tax dollars.
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