Welfare fraud allegations surface in state Senate race

FAYETTEVILLE (WTVD) -- Allegations of welfare fraud have surfaced in the 19th District state Senate race.

On Tuesday, Fayetteville attorney and Democrat Billy Richardson called a press conference, where he provided the media with public and private financial records tied to his opponent, Senator Wesley Meredith (R-NC).

The documents allege Meredith, a Fayetteville business owner, committed welfare fraud in the late 90s, when he and his now ex-wife, Elizabeth, were making annual incomes in the six-figure range. The couple separated in 1997.

Sources tell ABC11 that the former Mrs. Meredith provided the private documents, to include WIC receipts, to the Richardson campaign. Most of the other documents are public record.

Messages left at Ms. Meredith's home and with her attorney were not returned Tuesday.

The revelation comes just six weeks from Election Day, and a day after a Civitas Flash poll shows Meredith with a 52-38 lead over Richardson.

THE DOCUMENTS, MEREDITH'S RESPONSE

The Merediths had a son in 1996. Copies of Medicaid cards indicate Elizabeth Meredith received pre and post-natal care on government assistance. That year, a child's birth at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center would have cost more than $10,000.

WIC receipts signed by Elizabeth Meredith in 1996 show she purchased basics, to include eggs, milk and cereal, with food stamps following the birth of their child.

Federal tax records show Meredith and his then-wife made more than $100,000 the year prior to their son's birth. In 1996, the year Elizabeth Meredith received Medicaid and WIC support, the couple had an adjusted gross income of $95,000.

Bank records and property records also indicate the Merediths were well off at the time the family utilized public assistance. Richardson pointed out Wesley Meredith made a personal account deposit of more than $42,000 the month his son was born.

A 1997 child support court order had Wesley Meredith paying more than $3,000 a month for both his children following his separation from Elizabeth Meredith.

"Together, these documents raise compelling and troubling questions about my opponent's integrity, judgment and fitness for public office," said Richardson, during the press conference.

"They also paint Senator Meredith as a hypocrite, because in 2013 he voted to reject billions of federal dollars that would have expanded Medicaid to cover 500,000 North Carolina citizens who are truly needy."

Sen. Meredith did not address details of the documents or allegations, but condemned the release of the information.

In an e-mail statement, Meredith said, "Dragging my former wife and first born son into a personal attack is below the belt, it's something I will not engage in, and it's the type of politics that forces so many people to lose faith in politicians."

PENDING INVESTIGATION

Richardson's camp also delivered the documents to the Cumberland County District Attorney's Office, Department of Social Services, and the Attorney General.

DSS forwarded us state policy regarding investigations for Medicaid and food stamps. DSS investigate all reports of fraud related to Medicaid and food stamps and has 180 days to complete a food stamp investigation. According to DHHS guidelines, provided by the Cumberland Co DSS director's office on Tuesday, there is no time limit on a Medicaid fraud investigation.

The WIC program falls under the Department of Public Health and not DSS.

Cumberland County D.A. Billy West said his office would only become involved if charges were brought about as a result of the DSS investigation.

"In my tenure as D.A., we've never prosecuted the type of case alleged here," West said.

While neither office would comment on this case specifically, representatives from both said proven guilt in this type of matter usually results in civil action. DHHS guidelines indicate fraudulent assistance would be recovered by voluntary repayment, wage garnishment, estate recovery or liens.

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