Woman ordered to repay $40K in welfare benefits

WAILUKU — A Wailuku woman was ordered to repay more than $40,000 in welfare benefits she illegally collected while not reporting her husband’s income over a four-year period.

Roxanne Lara-Santos, 30, had already paid $1,000 toward restitution when she was sentenced Wednesday. 

She was ordered to perform 200 hours of community service as part of four years’ probation.

“When you found it favorable to claim your husband, you did,” 2nd Circuit Judge Rhonda Loo said, referring to Lara-Santos’ tax returns and rental agreements. “We can’t have this wishy-washy behavior. Either he was employed or not employed, he was living there or not living there. It’s pretty much black and white.

“That’s why you got all this money you weren’t entitled to.”

Lara-Santos had pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of second-degree theft, as well as welfare fraud.

“I sincerely apologize for taking advantage of the system,” she said in court.

Deputy Public Defender William “Pili” McGrath said Lara-Santos is working and pregnant with her fifth child.

“It’s a different kind of crime,” McGrath said. “Basically, Maui’s an economic disaster for every working person at this point.

“She took the money. She spent the money, and now she has to pay the money back,” he said. “Many people don’t understand how government money works. She understands now.

“It’s pretty much like a giant student loan where you didn’t go to school.”

Deputy Prosecutor Jeffery Temas responded: “She’s going through the School of Hard Knocks right now.”

He said Lara-Santos received the benefits from June 2012 to June 2016, beginning when she was 23 years old and continuing until she was 27. She collected monthly amounts ranging from $500 to more than $1,300 during the four-year period, Temas said.

During the same period, her husband earned more than $200,000 that wasn’t reported, Temas said. “That’s a lot of money to get in one hand and ask for money in the other hand,” he said.

“This was to support her family, really to live in a lifestyle they couldn’t afford,” Temas said. “She abused a system designed to help people in less fortunate circumstances.”

A state Department of Human Services investigation began after an interview where Lara-Santos reported her husband was working but was off island, Temas said.

Lara-Santos received the payments from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

She asked for a chance to keep the convictions off her record.

Loo denied the request, saying she was concerned about the large amount of money Lara-Santos had received over four years.

Lara-Santos agreed to make payments of $75 a month toward the $40,696 in restitution remaining after the $1,000 she had already paid.

She was given credit for two days she previously spent in jail and was disqualified from collecting welfare while she is on probation.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.