PORTLAND — Officials are trying to figure out how a state agency allowed a couple to collect Oregon welfare benefits while living in a $330,000 house in a gated neighborhood in Las Vegas.
Donte and Lakisha Muhammed are accused of collecting $219,000 in Oregon benefits for housing, welfare, food stamps and other purposes at multiple addresses before they were indicted in Clackamas County on charges of racketeering, theft and fraud, The Oregonian reported. They are to be tried in February.
The Muhammads listed 10 addresses in Oregon and Nevada since 2007 but lived at just three, according to a state Department of Justice timeline.
In mid-2011, the Muhammads were living in Nevada but collecting benefits at addresses in Hillsboro, Happy Valley and Troutdale, it said.
“How can you make payments to multiple addresses to a single client and not have that raise questions? We’ve got to figure out what happened here," said Gene Evans, a spokesman for the Department of Human Services.
He said it appears that supervisors did not always approve the payments or may not have known what they were approving, and part of the problem may lie with the agency’s multiple computer systems that don’t coordinate services a client is receiving.
The agency is in an upgrade that will put all the data into one network.
Court documents say Donte Muhammed was paid by Oregon to be his wife’s full-time caregiver at the same time he earned nearly $75,000 last year working for a company that stages convention events, and Lakisha Muhammad collected $18,000 in mileage expenses for travel between Las Vegas and the Portland area for treatment.
It was the travel reimbursement requests that raised suspicion on the part of a new worker in the Clackamas County office, Evans said.
Lakisha Muhammad, 35, has attended her court appearances in a wheelchair.
She became disabled after she suffered an electric shock from a washing machine, according to court testimony.
She suffers from insomnia, severe depression and a chronic pain condition, said a Las Vegas clinic that recommended she move to a warmer climate.
Her attorney, Lawrence Taylor, said she “denies all charges and expects to be vindicated at trial."
Taylor said he has not seen the state’s list of home addresses for Lakisha Muhammad but said his client provided accurate information about where she lived.
Donte Muhammad, 37, is not represented by an attorney. Numbers listed in his name in Nevada and Oregon went unanswered Monday or were not working.
The Muhammads surrendered in the summer and have testified that their home is in foreclosure, their cars are being repossessed, and they’re broke. Lakisha Muhammad and the couple’s three children receive about $1,500 a month in Social Security benefits.
In October, Lakisha Muhammad was accused in Washington County of filing a false police report of a home burglary, claiming seven flat screen televisions that didn’t exist were stolen, and last month both were charged with perjury and making false statements about their assets to qualify for court-appointed attorneys.
The Muhammads told a judge they were truthful and blamed the errors on court workers who helped them with paperwork.