Before he left for Los Angeles and a Christmas party at the Ritz-Carlton, Gov. Dannel Malloy dropped a bomb: State workers applied for, and received, disaster benefits to which they were not otherwise entitled in the wake of Hurricane Irene. He was spitting fire and brimstone at a Sunday afternoon press conference. One wishes he showed similar venom about banks using bogus paper to foreclose on homes. But that would take guts. Instead, the governor is picking on state workers, an easy target.
What should you do if you are worried about your D-SNAP application?
Apparently, in the wake of Hurricane Irene, employees of the Department of Social Services made clear to other state workers that there were emergency benefits to be had. Inform you clients, was apparently the message. You might be eligible yourself, was another message.
My phones have been ringing this morning with calls from state workers who received benefits. Are they at risk? How should you respond if the D-SNAP police come knocking on your door?
Malloy told reporters on Sunday that both state and federal authorities have been notified. This is significant because, as the Martha Stewart case made clear, even if the feds can’t prove the case that led them to question you in the first place, they will prosecute you, and they will seek to imprison you, if you lie to them. So the first rule of engagement in these cases is to resolve to tell the truth. Always.
But that does not necessarily mean you have an obligation to speak to either a state or federal investigator.
What should you do if your employer asks you about your D-SNAP form?
The D-SNAP form asks for information about your household: where you live, who lives with you, and how the storm affected your home. These are not work-related topics. I am advising callers to refuse to answer questions about what goes on in their homes on their time. Quite frankly, it is none of your boss’s business who you live with, what you spend on food, clothing or utilities, or just how the storm affected your home.
If you are a state employee, you are almost certainly a member of a union. Demand union representation at any meeting with your employer. If you do not trust your union representative, a not uncommon reaction to the unions since the SEBAC debacle, you most likely can get a waiver of representation from the union that will permit you to hire private counsel.
Do not speak to anyone else at work about your D-SNAP form.
If you are contacted by investigators unrelated to your employer about your form, refuse to speak to them unless you are represented by a lawyer. Folks are pretty rattled out there just now, and all sorts of crazy and not so-crazy fears, hopes and expectations are common. Understand that law enforcement is not engaged in the cure of souls: a cop or investigator is not a priest, social worker or psychologist. They appear on your doorstep to help build a case. If you let them, they will build one against you.
Do not be polite and tell them you might want to talk to a lawyer. Be bold. Be direct. Be crystal clear. You will not speak without a lawyer.
Understand that a faulty D-SNAP form could place you on the wrong side of prosecutorial cross-hairs. You face potential larceny charges, and, perhaps, forgery charges. The governor promises that he will be pressing hard for prosecutions. Don’t make it easy for him. You may have erred, but that is a topic for your spiritual counselor, not the state.
It is unlikely that the federal government will prosecute in these cases. The loss amounts are simply too low. According to the press accounts, the most anyone received under questionable circumstances was $1,200. But prosecutors are politicians. There may be a federal prosecution of two as showcase events, designed to try to teach us all about the importance of honesty, a virtue the government and its agents is free to disregard.
I suspect the governor held a Sunday press conference because his staff knew there would be a Monday morning news story about the investigation of fraud. He jumped the news cycle to try to look like a hero. Don’t be bullied. While Dannel is in Los Angeles feeding his face at meals costing more than most D-SNAP applicants received, many state workers are scared stiff.
Don’t get steam-rolled into becoming a poster boy or girl for this neo-populist rage. Protect yourself, and push back. Where was Dannel when we bailed out bankers with tax dollars? Where has the governor’s office been while folks lost their home as a result of mortgage fraud. The governor wants you to be low-hanging fruit. Don’t be.