notion that the answers to our society's many ills lie in additional law enforcement.
Second, the devotion of law enforcement resources to those who feed parasitically off of laxly administered public funds is misdirected. It can be stated with nearly the certainty of a scientific hypothesis tested over the years in our criminal courts that government benefit programs will be abused if an easy opportunity is provided. This principle will obtain in spite of the removal of a handful of abusers, for there will always be countless more to take their places.
While those public officials responsible for the administration of welfare funds in New York City are not criminally liable for the fraud committed here, they do bear much of the onus and culpability. Means have been and are readily available to cut down on the abuses revealed in these prosecutions. Failure of government made it too easy for these defendants to commit their crimes.
The authorities in charge implemented no adequate procedures by which identities could be verified. False identification documents, such as birth certificates, were readily obtainable. The government offices to which these fraudulent papers were submitted did not even ascertain whether a given social security number in fact corresponded to a given name.
Welfare recipients can be readily fingerprinted by automated photographic methods to prevent the use of false identities to open fraudulent cases, as is apparently now done in Los Angeles. See Jacques Steinberg, Fingerprinting Welfare Applicants, N.Y. Times, Nov. 25, 1992, at B1. The city of Bridgeport, Connecticut has had some success recently through the use of computer systems that provide welfare offices with access to Social Security, Department of Labor and Department of Motor Vehicles records and to photographic images. See Ferreting Out False Welfare Claims, N.Y. Times, June 15, 1993, at B7.
Despite the availability of relatively reliable checks on abuse, there appears to have been a reluctance by the state and city to take firm action to prevent further abuses. See, e.g., John Harney, Welfare Fingerprinting, N.Y. Post, June 9, 1993, at 17 (legislation to provide for fingerprinting and other checks bogs down). The Commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigation, which has conducted the fraud investigation in these cases, has strongly urged the legislature to pass a fingerprinting bill. See Attached Memorandum.
Claims that such a system would be too costly or would demean welfare recipients and interfere with their civil rights are for the legislature, not the courts. But see Steinberg, supra, at B1 (Los Angeles officials estimated that non-intrusive fingerprinting program saved $ 5.4 million in first six months). It is not for judges to decide whether our nation's commitment to helping those in need is placed at risk by allowing the fraud and abuse encouraged by negligent supervision to sap public support for government welfare programs.
It is appropriate to note that this court's scarce criminal judicial resources can be used more effectively in other cases -- particularly if the responsible governmental agencies take effective legislative and executive action to eliminate the kinds of endemic welfare abuses revealed in this case.
Jack B. Weinstein
Senior United States District Judge
Dated: Brooklyn, New York
June 23, 1993
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