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Woman allegedly stole $16,000

Andy Ouriel • Aug 27, 2014 at 2:38 PM

Erie County deputies launched a full-scale investigation on Friday into a woman accused of fraudulently authorizing billing for child care services.

Authorities suspect a 50-year-old Vermilion resident unlawfully took at least $16,000 in state and federal funds during several months.

The woman qualified for respite care, meaning she periodically dropped off her adoptive child at the home of a caretaker of her choosing.

Respite care workers also temporarily watch and care for underprivileged dependents when their primary caretakers need a break.

State funds cover respite care, with Erie County Job and Family Services acting as a pass-through agency, funneling those dollars in order to pay for respite care workers.

Detectives and county officials believed she falsified time sheets by:

• Filling and signing them herself rather than the person providing care.

• Putting down more hours than the caretaker actually worked.

“She was filling in times and signing someone else’s name,” said Karen Balconi Ghezzi, executive director at Erie County Job and Family Services. “That’s when we became suspicious of the billing process, and that’s what triggered the investigation”

But here’s another twist: The woman, attending Youngstown State University, was in the midst of an unpaid internship at Erie County Job and Family Services.

She had completed about two months of her obligation, interning less than 15 hours per week.

“It’s a huge coincidence that she was interning for us, and we discovered this,” Balconi Ghezzi said.

Balconi Ghezzi approved of the woman’s termination earlier this month.

Deputies on Friday logged a report chronicling the investigation.

“We’re reviewing documents related to this, and there were some discrepancies,” Erie County Sheriff’s Detective Dennis Papineau said.

Detectives must now interview the woman.

She won’t talk by herself, opting to hire an attorney out of Lorain.

“I’m just waiting to talk to the attorney,” Papineau said. “We’re still in the very beginning stages of the investigation”

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