- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 18, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A new partnership between state and federal officials will help Arkansas investigate and prevent attempts to fraudulently obtain Social Security disability benefits before money is paid out, officials said Tuesday.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said the state is launching the Cooperative Disability Investigations Program, a joint effort with the Social Security Administration. Arkansas is joining at least 24 other states that have launched similar programs.

“I want to send a strong message that Arkansas and Arkansans will not tolerate fraud,” Rutledge said at a news conference at the state Capitol. “We will not tolerate those who cheat the system and steal from those who deserve it.”

The program, which will be paid for by the Social Security Administration, will include two special agents and an investigative assistant from the Attorney General’s Office’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. It will be led by a special agent from the Social Security Administration’s Inspector General and will be based in downtown Little Rock.

The initiative has saved Social Security $3.1 billion since 1998 and $1.9 billion for other programs like Medicaid and Medicare.

Rutledge’s office said the team will evaluate and investigate suspicious claims and will identify lawyers or others who facilitate fraud. Its findings may result in criminal or civil prosecution, civil penalties of up to $5,000 for each false statement made and sanctions, including benefit withholding.

“CDI gives state disability examiners a resource to turn to when they have a suspicious disability claim and they need more evidence to make a decision,” said Robert Feldt, special agent in charge with the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General. “CDI units can give examiners that evidence and assist them in making the right decision before any benefits go out the door.”

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