A comedy of the welfare state

I’m not sure that Fozia Dualeh of the Twin Cities suburb Fridley is an immigrant or refugee, but I think it’s a pretty good bet. She has been charged with bilking taxpayers out of fraudulently procured welfare benefits in the amount of $118,000 over a one-and-one-half year period.

That is an impressive accomplishment, but Ms. Dualeh seems to have had the invaluable assistance of her husband, Abdikhadar Y. Ismail. For reasons that will become apparent, Ismail was found hiding under the covers in the course of a search of the family’s premises by law enforcement.

This almost unbelievable story is reported by the Star Tribune with the salient facts drawn from the criminal complaint. The story represents an outrage several times over. Viewed with detachment, however, it has the makings of a comedy of the welfare state, American style, combining elements of satire and farce:

Long suspicious that a Fridley mother of eight was cheating the state out of various welfare benefits, authorities have charged her Tuesday receiving more than $118,000 in government aid over roughly a 1½-year period.

Authorities say that as she collected benefits, Fozia S. Dualeh falsely claimed that the children’s father, who was gainfully employed, was not financially supporting or living with the family.

Dualeh, 39, was charged by summons in Anoka County District Court with felony theft ahead of an April 12 initial court appearance.

Dualeh illegally tapped three public benefits from January 2014 to August 2015: $85,582 in child care aid, $24,176 in food support and $8,996 in medical assistance overpayments, the complaint read.

A search of the home by authorities in late October 2015 led to Dualeh’s husband, and the children’s father, Abdikhadar Y. Ismail, being found in bed under the blankets in the master bedroom, charges said. Men’s clothing was in a dresser, and mail and other documents with his name on them were found throughout the residence.

Messages were left Tuesday for Dualeh seeking her reaction to the allegations. Ismail said, “We are very innocent” but declined to say more.

Dualeh’s attorney, Nahid Abuelhassan, disputed the criminal charge and said a civil effort last year by Anoka County to collect the money was thwarted by an appeals examiner.

According to the complaint, Dualeh reported in March 2013 to Anoka County Human Services that Ismail had moved out and was not providing support.

Case workers started looking into whether Ismail had indeed relocated about the time Dualeh was pregnant with her eighth child. Authorities also noted that Dualeh and Ismail made a down payment on a vehicle, providing driver’s license and insurance information listing them both at the same address.

Also, school records for their children listed Ismail as living with Dualeh, as did 10 bank accounts, though Dualeh’s application for public aid indicated she alone had one account.

Ismail listed the family’s address on two vehicles and with his employer, a home health care business. The complaint did not say whether Dualeh was employed.

In October 2015, authorities twice spotted Ismail’s vehicle parked in the family’s designated spot. Dualeh said Ismail sometimes visited but never slept there or shared meals. Later that month, the search found him under the covers.

Where was Ismail when the Star Tribune reached him for comment? The Star Tribune probably didn’t ask and the story doesn’t say. For some reason the Star Tribune has not enabled comments on the story.

Ismail’s claim that “We are very innocent” is a quotable quote, but probably not on grounds of veracity. From the guy found hiding under the covers, “very” is a tell. “Very guilty” is more like it.

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