Schenectady County District Attorney Robert M. Carney announced today that on February 24, 2023, Sursattee Sukhnandan, a 50 year-old resident of Schenectady, NY, was sentenced to a term of 15 days of incarceration to be served in the Schenectady County Jail, which will be followed by 5 years of probation, for stealing more than $27,000 in welfare benefits. The defendant’s sentence also included a requirement that the defendant serve 500 hours of community service. The defendant is also disqualified for one year from obtaining welfare benefits. The sentenced was imposed by Acting Schenectady County Court Judge Mark J. Caruso following the defendant’s guilty plea to one count of Welfare Fraud in the Third Degree, a Class D felony, on November 29, 2022.
The defendant’s welfare fraud charges stem from the defendant’s years-long fraud on the Schenectady County Department of Social Services (DSS) through which the defendant stole more than $27,000 in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (also known as food stamps). From 2017 through 2022, the defendant received welfare benefits based on false representations regarding the members of her household and income. Specifically, the defendant repeatedly failed to disclose that her husband was a member of the household and gainfully employed. Had she disclosed the truth, the defendant would not have been eligible for any public assistance benefits.
During the investigation into defendant’s fraud, investigators learned that the defendant and her husband not only resided together, but also held joint assets together, including bank accounts, a mortgage, and a two-family residence for which they collected rental income. The investigation culminated with the execution of a search warrant on the defendant’s home, where investigators found substantial evidence confirming her husband’s membership in her household, including family photographs from annual vacations to Las Vegas, Nevada. Investigators also seized more than $40,000 in cash.
Under the terms of her plea agreement, the defendant was required to forfeit $27,606, the vast majority of which will be paid to DSS as restitution for what the defendant stole during the course of her fraud. Defendant’s plea agreement also called for a potential jail sentence to be imposed by the court, which could be no greater than 60 days in the Schenectady County Jail.
During the sentencing proceeding, the District Attorney's Office argued that the court should impose a jail sentence given the defendant’s brazen and years-long fraud. The DA's Office argued that the amount of cash seized from the defendant and the fact that the defendant owned property generating rental income with her husband showed that the defendant is precisely the type of person the welfare program is not intended for and who does not qualify for services. The DA's Office further argued that the defendant’s history of low-level thefts further warranted a sentence of incarceration. Lastly, given the amount of welfare fraud throughout Schenectady County and New York State more generally, the DA's Office urged the court to impose a sentence of incarceration to deter others from engaging in similar fraudulent behavior.
After hearing argument and a statement by the defendant (who apologized for her actions), Acting Schenectady County Court Mark J. Caruso imposed a sentence of 15 days to be served in the Schenectady County Jail. This case was prosecuted by ADA William Lemon. The defendant was represented by attorney Gerard Amedio.