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EAST GREENWICH â€” 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.
â€śMaybe 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,â€ť Hodgson said.
Providence has become a hot spot for questionable disability pensions, he said.
â€śThere's a disproportionately high number of disability pensions and a small amount of traditional end-of-career pensions,â€ť 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.
â€śIf you fail to disclose a change in your circumstances, it's the same thingâ€ť 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.