ST. PAUL (WCCO) — A Forest Lake couple is facing felony charges, accused of bilking taxpayers for about $115,000 in public assistance benefits they weren’t entitled to.
Brittany and Eric Vacko had a sad story — no jobs, no savings and a special needs son to care for. But Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said the couple actually earned a good living while they were claiming poverty.
“There was income,” Choi said, “revenue that was coming to these defendants.”
For the past four years, prosecutors say the Vackos have tapped several public assistance programs: food benefits, medical assistance, the Family Investment program, Diversionary Work program and Social Security.
But investigators say they’ve both been in the business of buying and selling cars for years.
The criminal complaint alleges Eric Vacko appeared before the New Market Township board in 2011, representing himself as a co-owner of B And B Motors. When the couple filed the paperwork to rent a home in Forest Lake, they revealed that they were earning a combined income of $7,500 a month.
Investigators later linked them to four bank accounts, when they claimed they had none.
“You know, they come to the government and they ask for a certain assistance and they sign certain documents,” Choi said, “but the reality is that everything that they were purporting to be true was really not the case at all.”
According to the criminal complaint, Brittany Vacko said she couldn’t work because she had to stay home with a special needs child, and she got a doctor’s signature to prove it. Eric Vacko said he was too busy with technical college and he got an advisor’s signature to prove that. Prosecutors say both signatures were forgeries.
“When people do things like this, what it does is it really undermines the important public safety net programs that we have for legitimate people who really need them,” Choi said.
A woman arriving at the home Monday closed the garage door behind her. When we knocked, the only response was the sound of the deadbolt locking.
The couple’s first court appearance is set for April 22nd. If they’re convicted, prosecutors will try to get restitution.