Fighting Fraud, for the Sake of Service
Anthony Ruggiero: Bringing detective work to HRA.
The City’s welfare programs are a central part of the safety net that civil society depends upon. That doesn’t mean there isn’t fraud within the system, and that’s why Fraud Investigators and their Supervisors like Anthony Ruggiero exist.
“They try to uncover if social service benefits are being misused and if there’s fraud behind the misuse,” he said of Fraud Investigators one morning before starting his shift at 250 Church Street in Manhattan. “The misuse could be a deliberate fabrication of an HRA application or coming in and lying to a welfare investigator about something that could easily be traced.”
It’s real detective work, Ruggiero explained, because Fraud Investigators have to take anonymous calls and referrals and decipher if there’s enough evidence to pursue a case, follow up on leads and check newly found facts about a client against their applications.
Ruggiero has been a Supervisor since 2001, and before that was a Fraud Investigator. He explained that when he was promoted there wasn’t as much direct training as there was now.
“At the time, there wasn’t as much guidance. We had to learn this job by watching,” he said. “Now, there’s more official training.”
He also stressed that the Supervisors’ role was an important part of the general operation of welfare investigation.
“Our job is to make sure the Fraud Investigators are using proper procedures. Did they cut corners? Did they check the numbers?” he asked rhetorically. “The Supervisor provides important checks and balances for the integrity of this work.”
Ruggiero believed that rooting out misuse is vital for good social services, and that getting rid of fraudulent case means that a family that is more deserving would be able to get HRA benefits.
Moving the City Forward
“We save taxpayer money,” he said. “We help the City move forward.”
Ruggiero came to HRA after going to John Jay College, thinking that a job in social services would be an interim assignment.
“I thought it would be a stepping stone into law enforcement—police, courts, security work on different levels,” he recalled. “But the job grew on me. You meet a lot of great people. I’ve worked with so many different cultures.”
Reflecting on the diversity of the client base, he joked, “I’ve worked in HRA but I think I’ve visited the entire world.”
Ruggiero is also an SSEU Local 371 delegate, a role he thinks is essential to running a healthy City agency.
“I act as a buffer for the investigative staff members who are having difficulties with management,” he said. “If you have the Union’s best interest at heart and the agency’s best interest at heart, you can come to a good middle ground.”