LIVINGSTON COUNTY – Assistant District Attorney Josh Tonra called the last of his witnesses on Tuesday as he charged hard into the second day of testimony in a heated Welfare Fraud trial against Michele Duryea, represented by defense attorney Daniel Magill. Duryea is accused of intentionally omitting her boyfriend, Eric Buchinger, as an income provider when he allegedly did live with and provide for her at Hunts-Hollow Road in the town of Portage.
Tonra called several witnesses to the stand, including Department of Social Services (DSS) employees and officials who handled interviews, applications and re-certifications for temporary assistance with the defendant, Michelle Duryea. Both Tonra and Magill hotly questioned each witness, resulting in a range of answers that both complicate and nuance the arguments on each side of this case.
“Ms. Duryea was not eligible for her benefits,” said DSS Fraud Investigator Mary Ann Marsh. “I sent a letter to her to request that she come in to discuss overpayment and disqualification with me.”
Marsh indicated under questioning by Tonra that Duryea received $9, 040 overpayment of temporary assistance and $3,458 of overpayment from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) over eight months. Marsh added that Duryea neither disputed nor agreed to the accusation that she had incorrectly filed her applications for these benefits.
However, under cross-examination by Magill, Marsh agreed that she would not be in court if Duryea had been provided the chance to consult an attorney before signing the disqualification consent form, as is standard procedure when the form is signed. However, since the duty to actually inform the accused falls on the attorney for DSS, Marsh could not herself confirm that Duryea was not contacted by the DSS attorney.
Magill also pointed out that Duryea filed a custody request for her five children in December of 2013, in the middle of the period when her boyfriend was alleged to be living with her. Magill offered to Marsh and the jury that it would be odd for two people who were living together to drag each other to court for a custody battle, and for County Judge Robert Wiggins to grant custody to Duryea on December 28, 2013.
In the following days, Magill will call witnesses to the stand to testify on Duryea’s behalf.
PHOTO CAPTION: File photo.