Great Falls woman gets 27 Months In Prison for Welfare Frau
The United States Attorney's Office announced that on Thursday, December 29, 2011, in Great Falls, U.S. District Judge Sam E. Haddon sentenced SHANNON LEE PITZER to 27 months in prison for fraud involving Food Stamps (now Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits), Section 8 Housing Assistance (HUD) benefits, Medicaid, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.
PITZER had been on public assistance almost continuously since at least 1994, according to Amy Hill, a program integrity specialist with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (MDPHHS), who testified at Thursday's sentencing hearing. Hill said that MDPHHS records only go back to 1994 when the system was computerized.
In January 2008, PITZER, after a disability determination by an Administrative Law Judge, also applied for SSI benefits in Great Falls. In her application, she indicated that her husband did not reside with her. Her eligibility was based on her disabilities (chronic pain, back problems, anxiety, OCD, and other limitations), household composition (herself and a dependant), and income consisting only of other public assistance.
Investigation determined that her husband, a violent offender required to register his current residence with law enforcement, had lived with PITZER more or less continuously since June of 2006, and had contributed income to the household which would have disqualified PITZER from the receipt of SSI, Food Stamp and SNAP benefits, Medicaid, and Section 8 housing assistance. During the period of the Indictment - January 2006 to June of 2011 - her husband had been employed by a local construction contractor and had significant income from that employment and, when not working, from unemployment compensation benefits during the time he lived with PITZER.
Investigation by MDPHHS, and the offices of Inspector General for the Social Security Administration, Housing and Urban Development, and Agriculture, revealed facts which established that PITZER and her husband did indeed live at the same address during this time. The Great Falls Police Department had been called to the PITZER residence on numerous occasions during the period of the indictment; PITZER's husband's mail was delivered to that residence; the couple bought a car jointly and the address on the registration was the same as where PITZER lived and claimed her husband did not reside; PITZER's husband had a bank account at a local credit union with SHANNON PITZER as a co-owner and the same address; and when PITZER's husband filled out insurance and other employment related paperwork with his employer he identified SHANNON PITZER as his wife and used the same address.
When agents came to interview the PITZERs, both were at home at the address listed by SHANNON PITZER. Her husband was interviewed and indicated that for the entire period of the indictment - except for a three month period from May 1, 2010, until July 2, 2010, when he got an apartment in Great Falls - he lived with PITZER at the address she had given on her welfare claims. He told investigators that even when he lived at the apartment, he spent many nights at his house and had always contributed income to the household resources.
When SHANNON PITZER was interviewed she first claimed that her husband did not live with her but, after being confronted with the evidence to the contrary, admitted that he did live at their home "70% of the time." Both PITZERs told investigators that John Pitzer has always contributed a portion of his income to the maintenance of their household.
As a result of her false statements regarding household composition and income, PITZER received over $115,000 in federal benefits to which she was not entitled. As part of his order, Judge Haddon ordered PITZER to repay the entire amount as restitution and placed PITZER on three years of supervised release to follow her prison term.
U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter called PITZER's sentence "a strong message that when the safety net that a generous nation provides its most desperate citizens is the target of fraud and abuse, the consequences will be certain and significant."
Because there is no parole in the federal system, the "truth in sentencing" guidelines mandate that PITZER will likely serve all of the time imposed by the court. In the federal system, PITZER does have the opportunity to earn a sentence reduction for "good behavior." However, this reduction will not exceed 15% of the overall sentence.