A Lewiston woman has been charged for allegedly cashing food stamps and Medicaid reimbursements for her children who were not in her custody for four years, for more than $35,000 in benefits.

Melissa R. McAtee, 31, is charged with one count of obtaining public assistance by fraud. McAtee had bond set at $10,000 Tuesday and has a preliminary hearing set April 3.

Court records indicate the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare opened an investigation into McAtee in August 2016, after the father of one of McAtee’s children found she was receiving public assistance on behalf of her son. Reports show that from November 2012 to October 2016, McAtee allegedly had received $19,615 for food stamps on behalf of her two sons. From August 2012 to August 2016, she allegedly received $16,017.67 in Medicaid, according to reports, for a total of $35,632.67 in potentially fraudulent benefits.

The father got a letter from the boy’s school showing his son was eligible for free lunches since he was on public assistance. But the father has had sole custody of his son since January 2013 and did not apply for public assistance.

An investigation found McAtee was interviewed by a Health and Welfare employee in October 2012 to determine if she and her children were eligible for public assistance. At the time, McAtee claimed she had custody of her two sons, though the father of one of the boys had gained custody of his son at the beginning of 2013. McAtee lost custody of her other son in September 2012. She was granted assistance for herself and children through food stamps and Medicaid.

Recertification interviews were conducted each year after that, with the most recent occurring in April 2016. In each interview, McAtee claimed to have custody of her two children, and she was recertified for assistance each year.

Charges were recommended by the Health and Welfare fraud investigations division in October 2016, but she wasn’t arrested until a warrant was issued locally earlier this month.

Court records show the DHW investigator also recommended that McAtee pay back the more than $35,000 as restitution and not be awarded public benefits until she pays back the restitution.

Holm may be contacted at tholm@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2275. Follow him on Twitter @TomHolm4.

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