Detroit man’s cellphone scheme cost taxpayers $11M



(The Center Square) – Dewan Williams, 47, of Detroit, turned himself into the custody of the Michigan Department of Corrections last week to begin serving up to a 20-year sentence for scamming taxpayers out of $11 million via a benefits phone scheme.

Williams was sentenced in February in the 3rd Circuit Court on one count of conducting a criminal enterprise, a 20-year felony, and one count of identity theft, a 5-year felony, for using personal information stolen from thousands of identity theft victims to defraud the State and financially benefit himself.

He was ordered to pay restitution.

“The threat of identity theft is real, and I urge Michigan residents to educate and protect themselves against potential victimization,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said at the time of sentencing. “My Michigan Identity Theft Support team, known as MITS, stands ready to assist victims of identity theft in recovering from the impact of this crime and my team of prosecutors will continue to work to hold perpetrators accountable.”

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Michigan State Police determined Williams fraudulently approved Medicaid benefits to qualify for and receive free government cell phones. After receiving the phones, Williams would activate and sell them for a profit.

Law enforcement recovered about 150 new and pre-packaged Safelink Wireless phones from Williams’ home along with personal information stolen from about 7,000 identity theft victims.

The submission of these fraudulent applications cost Michigan taxpayers $11 million in unnecessary payments. After the accounts were determined to be fraudulent, they were shut down and the state recouped the money.

The fraud follows the U.S. Department of Agriculture releasing the fiscal year 2022 national payment error rate for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for the first time since the COVID pandemic.

The PER measures how accurately the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program agencies determine benefits amounts and eligibility. A payment error means the agency either underpaid or overpaid the recipient and can result from an error by the agency or a recipient.

The national PER was 11.54%, a 4.18 percentage point increase from the fiscal year 2019, the last time it was calculated for the food program serving more than 41 million people, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priories.

In the Spring of 2020, Congress allowed states to skip quality control reviews, which resulted in USDA skipping publishing the annual national and state payment error rates for fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

In fiscal year 2022, states resumed reporting error rates to USDA, allowing for the reinstatement of the annual publication.

Fiscal year 2022 data indicate that states had a combined average overpayment error rate of 9.84% and an underpayment error rate of 1.7%.

Michigan’s PER was 13%, which is above the national average, but not the worst. For example, Alaska reported an overpayment rate of 56%.



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