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Woman Got Welfare and 2 Homes, D.A. Charges

March 06, 2004|Holly J. Wolcott | Times Staff Writer

Calling it a case of pure greed, Ventura County authorities announced Friday that felony charges had been filed against a former Thousand Oaks resident who received public assistance while allegedly earning thousands of dollars a month from two rental properties she owned.

Janet Cohen, 43, was arrested Wednesday at her Palmdale home following an 18-month investigation into what authorities called the largest welfare fraud case in recent Ventura County history.

"I think the theft of public funds, especially in a time of these huge budget shortfalls, is particularly troubling," said Vinse Gilliam, an investigator for the Ventura County district attorney's office. "It's pure greed."

Cohen, who was freed after posting $10,000 bail, has been charged with welfare fraud and two counts of grand theft, all felonies. If convicted, she faces four years and four months in prison and fines and restitution totaling $80,000.

Authorities allege that between 1985 and 2001 Cohen fraudulently collected more than $75,000 in state and federal public assistance, including Social Security payments and Section 8 housing funds.

Gilliam said that Cohen failed to notify authorities about a number of changes in her income over those 16 years that would have made her ineligible for public assistance but that the most egregious omissions were the two homes she purchased.

In September 1998, Cohen bought a Reseda property that included a main house and guest quarters for which she was charging a total of $2,400 in monthly rent, Gilliam said.

In September 2001, Cohen purchased a second home, in Canoga Park, Gilliam said. Four tenants rented rooms at the home for $500 a month apiece.

Gilliam said that Cohen was required by law to report her rental income to the county, state and federal agencies from which she was receiving benefits.

"Had the [Ventura County] Human Services Agency and the Social Security Administration been aware of this income and those properties, she would not have qualified for the assistance," Gilliam said.

A spokeswoman for the county's public assistance office was not immediately available for comment.

In an unrelated case, another former Ventura County woman was arrested Wednesday on similar charges.

Former Piru resident Beth Nguyen, 33, has been charged with felony welfare fraud for allegedly receiving nearly $20,000 in public assistance and food stamps for her and her child between January 1996 and January 2001.

Gilliam said that when Nguyen applied for the benefits, she claimed that she was unmarried, unemployed and did not know the location of her child's father.

In fact, authorities allege, she was married, living with the child's father and working at two nail salons.

Additionally, her husband was employed and the couple owned their home.

Nguyen was arrested at her workplace in Valencia. She also posted $10,000 bail. If convicted, she could face up to three years in prison.

Gilliam said the case against Nguyen was built in part on information gleaned by a county investigator who went undercover to Princess Nails in Valencia and received a manicure from Nguyen last year.

Both women will return to Ventura County Superior Court on Wednesday for arraignment.

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