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Pennock couple gets jail, probation for welfare fraud

WILLMAR -- A Pennock couple was both sentenced to jail time, probation and community service work on amended charges of theft for collecting more than $27,000 in state benefits while they owned property and received workers compensation and Social Security payments.

Norma Vallejo Hernandez, 43, and Rafael Hernandez-Rubio, 43, were both sentenced Monday morning in Kandiyohi County District Court and were ordered to pay $27,317.63 in restitution.

Vallejo Hernandez was sentenced to 120 days in jail, a $50 fine, five years of probation, 200 hours of community service and was ordered to cooperate with a gambling screening and follow the recommendations of that program. She was given credit for 20 days already served in jail. Up to 60 days of the jail time can be deferred if she is in compliance with restitution payments.

Hernandez-Rubio was sentenced to 90 days in jail, a $50 fine, five years of probation and 100 hours of community service. He was given credit for one day already served and up to 60 days of his jail time can be deferred.

Both received stays of imposition on their sentences and seven additional perjury counts against each were dismissed. Under the stay of imposition, a felony conviction is reduced to a misdemeanor conviction if a defendant complies with the conditions of probation.

Both of the defendants pleaded guilty in April to the theft charge, which was reduced from wrongfully obtaining assistance in a plea agreement.

According to the complaints against the couple, they had applied for and received public assistance since 1992. As recipients of assistance, they were obligated to report employment, assets and income to Kandiyohi County Family Services.

In June 2010, county officials received a tip that the couple had owned property in Murray County since July 2006. It was determined that they did own the property in Iona, and that it was a "countable" asset that would make the couple completely ineligible for benefits. The property was not reported to family services.

According to Murray County property tax records, the couple owns a home at 550 Main Street which has a taxable market value of $15,100.

The investigation also revealed that the couple had failed to report workers compensation received by Hernandez-Rubio from January to March 2007, with a final payment of $46,976.22, and a Social Security lump sum payment of $38,684 in February 2009.

The total overpayment of food support and health care benefits was $27,317.63. The couple also each signed seven documents from January 2008 to March 2010 without disclosing the assets and income.

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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