A Belleville man has pleaded guilty to illegally collecting $3,625 in benefits from Belleville Township and was ordered to pay restitution to cover the welfare he received.
Timothy A. Benson, 27, also must pay $1,287 in court costs and probation fees, complete 30 hours of community service, and serve two years of probation, according to St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly. Benson was given credit for 21 days he spent in jail after his arrest in February.
Benson could not be reached for comment.
The township gives general assistance of up to $245 a month to needy individuals who do not qualify for other aid programs. Benson received utility bill payment assistance, discount store gift cards and bus passes.
Benson was charged with two counts of state benefits fraud in February but as part of a plea bargain on July 5, he pleaded guilty to two felony counts of theft over $500/less than $10,000.
Kelly said his office accepted the plea bargain in part because Benson had no prior felony convictions.
“When Benson applied for the assistance, he claimed that he did not have any income and no employment,” Kelly said in an email. “Any income disqualifies one from receiving ‘general assistance’ from Belleville Township, and the defendant did not report his temporary employment.”
Benson earned $844 in 2013, $4,112 in 2014, and $1,563 in 2015, Kelly said.
“These small amounts of income from temporary jobs disqualified Benson from receiving general assistance,” Kelly said.
Gregory Nestor, an assistant public defender for St. Clair County who represented Benson, declined to comment.
“I think they did a wonderful job,” Township Trustee Joy Schreiber said of the prosecutors. “It’s something that was necessary to do to proceed with getting restitution so that word of mouth doesn’t spread that we’re not requiring restitution if there is fraud discovered.”
Township Supervisor Dennis Korte could not be reached for comment.
To prevent future abuse, the township board voted to pay for Equifax so township employees can check the income of prospective clients, Schreiber said. She noted that township board members are not authorized to review information about individual clients. That is handled by Korte and the township’s two employees.
Last year, the township board asked their attorney to contact Kelly to see if Benson could be prosecuted and if restitution could be made.
The township, which was founded in 1885, is in the process of being dissolved and its duties are scheduled to be taken over by the city in May.