RACINE COUNTY - As of Friday, Racine County has its own Anti-Fraud Task Force dedicated to finding, investigating and prosecuting those suspected of ripping off public assistance programs.
State and local officials on Thursday announced their new combined initiative, which will include the sharing of resources and information, and a commitment on the state's part to help fund county efforts.
"Fraud in public programs is unacceptable, and we don't tolerate it," said Racine County Executive William McReynolds.
He and Human Services Director Debra Jossart took a list of suggestions for changes they would like to see made to the public assistance system, and particularly the Wisconsin Shares child care subsidy program, to state Department of Children and Families Secretary Reggie Bicha earlier this month. A county task force was one of the recommendations.
McReynolds said that the creation of the task force was a direct result of their meeting.
"Working together we will hold accountable those criminals stealing from hard-working taxpayers," Bicha said. "By providing counties with additional support as they tackle this program locally and by continuing our work at the state level, more providers who are scamming the system will be brought to justice."
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At a press conference Thursday at the Sheriff's Substation on Highway 20, Bicha said the Wisconsin Shares program is too important to hardworking parents to let others steal from it. With the creation of the Milwaukee anti-fraud task force first, now Racine and a third anti-fraud task force in Kenosha, Bicha said the state is moving closer to bringing the Wisconsin Shares program back to its original intention: to assist working parents in covering child care costs.
McReynolds said the new task force will include the hiring of retired local investigators to work with Human Services staff on finding and stopping fraud on the front end. The Sheriff's Department will continue to investigate suspicions of fraud, and the District Attorney's Office will continue to prosecute the cases.
In addition, investigators from the city of Racine and Mount Pleasant police departments will also be a part of the task force, dedicating resources to identifying fraud. District Attorney Mike Nieskes said officers from those departments will be made aware of possible red flags they should look for when responding to calls.
"They're in the (child care) centers," he said. "They're in the homes."
Efforts to put a stop to rampant fraud in Wisconsin Shares thus far have led to the closure of about 100 child care providers in the state, Bicha said. "We're not done yet," he said.