By Rachel Petersen
A McAlester woman who pleaded guilty Jan. 23 in Pittsburg County District Court to charges related to food stamp fraud came to the McAlester News-Capital to speak out regarding her case.
Candice Lynn Heath, 30, pleaded guilty to two charges related to welfare fraud — obtaining food stamps by fraud and false claims against state. Heath said that she submitted a plea of guilty in the case because she just didn’t have it in her to keep fighting.
After pleading guilty, Heath was fined $500 and then she was ordered to pay more than $55,000 in restitution, court documents indicate.
Christopher J. Comer, a state of Oklahoma law enforcement agent and an investigator for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services Office of Inspector General, investigated the case against Heath’s acts of food stamp fraud. During his investigation, Comer discovered that Heath had applied for food benefits from 2007 until 2011. In her applications, she stated that she lived at a residence on C Street in McAlester with three of her children and had no family income. According to Comer’s affidavit, these statements by Heath were untrue. During his investigation, Comer’s affidavit indicates that Heath, and her three children, lived with Heath’s husband at a residence on Anderson Road in McAlester.
Her husband, David Heath, “is gainfully employed and has a monthly income which would make him and his current family totally ineligible to receive SNAP (food stamps) benefits,” Comer’s affidavit states.
When asked about the case, Heath said that she is married, and that her husband does have an income. However, during that time period, Heath said, “I had to live with my mother because of my health issues.” In fact, Heath said she hadn’t even met her husband until months after authorities accused her of living with him.
Heath said that when investigators came to her husband’s home, regarding the welfare fraud case, all of her stuff was still in boxes, because she had just recently been able to move back in with her husband.
“I pled guilty to all of this because I just couldn’t handle anymore,” Heath said. “You know, I worked my butt off to get my paralegal license and my child care license. And now that I have a felony on my record, I can’t use them.”
Court documents indicate that Heath collected approximately $21,000 in food benefits since 2007, and now she owes over $55,000 in restitution to pay back benefits she collected from the Department of Human Services. “They are also collecting money that helped pay my children’s medical bills,” Heath said. “That is why I owe so much.”
Heath said that she believes the system is seriously flawed. “The strange thing is that I still have over $1,000 on my card,” Heath said. “Even while I was in jail, and months afterwards, they kept putting money on my account.” While at the News-Capital, Heath called to check the balance on her Oklahoma DHS food stamp card. The balance was $1,362.95. “What is wrong with this picture?” Heath asked. “They’re charging me with fraud, taking me to court, scaring my children, and then they continue to give me more benefits.”
When asked if she believed she did anything wrong, Heath replied: “I fed my kids. How is that wrong?”
Contact Rachel Petersen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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