The Valley Patriot has covered many state corruption stories in the past ten and a half years. What we observed in that time is that scandals come and go but very rarely does anything ever change. Our editorial board sat down with State Representative Jim Lyons and Shauna O’Connell to ask them the gravity of the waste fraud and abuse in state government and why nothing ever changes.
State Representative Shauna O’Connell has been one of the more outspoken state representatives in the legislature. We asked the representative to talk about the fraud and mismanagement in the Welfare Department and other areas of state government and what can be done to have more accountability, less fraud and greater transparency in state government.
AUDITS AND NO ACTION
State Auditor Suzanne Bump has released several audits in the last few years exposing fraud and lack of any accountability in several state agencies. Among other things, Bump’s audit found 1,164 dead people receiving welfare benefits, and 30,000 blank EBT cards (welfare cash cards) completely unaccounted for. She also found dead people receiving social security benefits, illegal aliens and non-residents illegally receiving government services. We asked O’Connell if they audits were helpful in rooting out fraud waste and mismanagement.
“It’s certainly helpful to have the audits because it’s very difficult for us to get the information we need on how our money is being spent. When I make information requests from (DTA) Department of Transitional Assistance also known as welfare, I think it’s easier to get classified information from the National Archives than DTA. It would be more helpful to have an even more thorough audit and actually have an auditor who follows through and makes sure changes are implemented. I would rather have an auditor who goes above and beyond the call of duty to stop fraud in the system.”
EVERYTHING IS ON THE HONOR SYSTEM
“This is why I have been pushing to take the enforcement division out of DTA’s hands and put it in the Inspector General’s office. Right now, DTA is self-policing. We report all this fraud and we learn about people spending all this money in the Virgin Islands and Hawaii and nothing ever happens,” says Rep. O’Connell.
“Right now I am trying to get information on ten people getting benefits and spending their money in Hawaii. We are trying to find out exactly how long they were spending their money in Hawaii before getting their benefits cut off. They won’t’ give us the information. So, yes it’s helpful to have the audit information but we need more transparency from these agencies.”
“I’ve filed an amendment to make sure welfare recipients can only spend their money in Massachusetts or in a bordering state. The excuse they gave for rejecting it was, “What if someone has a wedding to go to out of state or has to care for a sick relative?” Nobody is paying for you, me or any regular Joe working every day, to go to a wedding in Hawaii. I always come back to, welfare is supposed to be a temporary assistance program. If you are on public assistance, everything should be about working towards self-sufficiency. If you are not going to make sacrifices for that, then why are we subsidizing your bills with other people’s sacrifices?”
“Another problem is that DTA does not do a thorough check of assets. It’s the honor system where they ask if you have any assets when you apply, like bank accounts etc. They are supposed to check people’s tax returns with DOR and they are supposed to do an asset check, but they don’t. I filed a bill asking that we do asset, identity and background checks to verify that information and that also has been rejected. So, we are looking at a Legislature that has had ample opportunity to enact much stronger reforms and they have rejected many of those opportunities.”
Representative Lyons agrees and says that the corruption and mismanagement in state government has infected every agency in Massachusetts.
“In 2004 or 2005, the auditors reports came out that told the Department of Children and Families (DCF) that they were not to use what’s called ‘place holder social security numbers.’ If you go to the Social Security office and you don’t have a social security number, they will assign you a temporary number called a place holder social security number.”
“Part of the Inspector General’s audit that came out said that if you have a child going to the public schools, one of the things they are supposed to do is notify DCF that they are going to school and prove it. The reason they want them to prove it is they want to make sure if you are getting benefits for children, that there are in fact children in the household.”
“So, the audit done by the Inspector General that came out last year said they interviewed 57 recipients who received benefits. In the sample they found that the number of people who had complied with that element of the DCF requirement was zero. Nobody in Massachusetts had proved that they had children in school while getting benefits from the state. If you read this IG report in detail, it astounding. It’s a lack of transparency and total disregard by the Deval Patrick administration to follow any rules, regulations, or procedures,” Lyons said.
Reps. Lyons and O’Connell say nothing will ever change as long as the Democrats have a super-majority in the Legislature to sweep things under the rug. “What we need is enough Republicans to hold their feet to the fire,” Lyons says.
“These scandals come out all the time and whether it’s DTA, DCF or the crime lab scandal,” O’Connell continued, “everyone yells and screams for change. They try to smooth it over with the public and then they go away and we are not always aware of what is going on. I often file requests to find out what is going on. I tried to have a yearly audit of the DTA (welfare). That was rejected as well because if we had a yearly audit, we would find out if these reforms were really working, and what isn’t working.”
We asked the Representatives about the Parole Board and whether or not they have become lenient again since the Dominic Cinelli incident. Cinelli was serving three life sentences and was paroled after getting his GED and taking public speaking courses. Cinelli shot and killed Woburn Police officer Jack Maguire just days after being released.
“I’m not sure who oversees the Parole Board,” O’Connell answered. “We make these fixes because people get outraged and quickly it goes back to the way they were, that is because of the leadership, or lack of leadership, of Deval Patrick.
REHABILITATING CHILD RAPISTS
Representative O’Connell says that the next looming problem is the Sex Offender Registry Board and says that the Patrick Administration is trying to water down the regulations “Because they think we should be rehabilitating child rapists.”
“This issue is very serious and people need to know about it. Deval Patrick just fired the Executive Director and the Chairman of the Board of the Sex Offender Registry Board. He came right out and said he did it for revenge because they made his brother-in-law register as a sex offender. There should be a lot more outrage there because right now, we are in the midst of rewriting the regulations for the Sex Offender Registry Board.”
So now he has taken out a person with many years of experience on the board and someone who was an experienced prosecutor and replaced them with someone who has no experience. I will say this; nobody has ever accused Deval Patrick of being tough on sex offenders. My fear is that this is a move to weaken the Sex Offender Registry Board because their philosophy is not to punish men who rape children, but to treat them and rehabilitate them.
“Without more Republicans in the Legislature this is going to continue,” Lyons agreed. “What people have to understand is that it’s an insider’s club. Nobody wants to run afoul of the leadership. So without more balance in the Legislature, this is never going to stop. It’s when you have two parties rule that there are checks and balances. With one party running every single branch of government with an overwhelming majority, the corruption and mismanagement is going to continue at the same pace and quite frankly, I don’t know how long the state can survive like this.”