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Audit finds $3M in heating assistance funds given to applicants who lied about income

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TRENTON -

About $3 million in heating assistance that was supposed to go to low-income families may have gone to applicants who lied about their income, a state audit finds. The report from the New Jersey state auditor confirms concerns that were first raised in a Kane In Your Corner investigation.

Walt Kane and investigative producer Karin Attonito reflect on the long-term LIHEAP investigation for the News 12 Talks New Jersey podcast:

Back in 2016, Kane In Your Corner spoke to Dennis Kerrigan, a whistleblower who described the fraud he said he saw while working for the Low Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

“These well-to-do people were running this scam. They were actually stealing from the poor,” Kerrigan said. “They didn’t deserve these benefits.”

RELATED: Prosecutors probe fraud in heating assistance program 
RELATED: Low Income Housing Assistance Program paid out improper benefits 

Kerrigan complained to both the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Department of Energy. But the AG’s office found “insufficient evidence” and the feds referred the case to the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, which declared Kerrigan’s allegations “unsubstantiated.”

But the report from the state auditor appears to confirm many of Kerrigan’s claims. The audit found one recipient reported income of approximately $8,000 from a part-time job, while neglecting to report more than $50,000 from their full-time job. Another reportedly provided pay stubs from a non-existent company.

The audit found those types of discrepancies were not routinely detected because the Division of Housing and Community Resources, which oversees LIHEAP, only required applicants to show proof of income from the month prior to their application. The auditor recommends the division also request tax returns to better determine an applicant’s total income.

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