EAST GREENWICH — With statutory and regulatory criteria for receiving state benefits being tightened up, state Sen. Dawson T. Hodgson (R-Dist. 35, North Kingstown, East Greenwich) is targeting the fraud side of the equation in a bill he recently submitted to the General Assembly.
Senate Bill (S-2496), which he submitted along with Sen. James Doyle (D-Pawtucket) and 11 co-sponsors from both parties, would make it a felony offense to knowingly make false statements to procure a government benefit in the context of employment, disability pensions, retirement, health care or social assistance.
Hodgson said he was inspired by the recent case of John Sauro, a Providence firefighter receiving a tax-free disability pension even as he became a champion bodybuilder after leaving the force.
“Maybe there are five other guys like him out there, and if they see this law passed, I'm hoping it will prompt them to honor their obligations,” Hodgson said.
Providence has become a hot spot for questionable disability pensions, he said.
“There's a disproportionately high number of disability pensions and a small amount of traditional end-of-career pensions,” Hodgson said.
The bill calls for punishment of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fines. Also, knowingly withholding updated information in order to conceal a change in circumstance that could end on a reduce benefit could result in up to three years in prison. In each case, violators would not be allowed to apply for the benefit for a five-year period.
“If you fail to disclose a change in your circumstances, it's the same thing” as fraud, said Hodgson, who has resumed his legislative schedule after a recent bout with pneumonia that hospitalized him for three days.
The bill was submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he anticipates some procedural amendments before it is scheduled for a hearing.
Hodgson is also serving on three special General Assembly committees in the 2012 session: the Youth Violence Task Force, to address youth violence in urban areas; the Joint Committee on Economic Development, in which business owners and employees share ideas on how to improve the state's business climate; and the Joint Committee on Municipal Shared Services.