Investigation: Worker gave away benefits

County JFS employee resigns

WARREN — A woman awaiting sentencing resigned from her position at the Trumbull County Department of Job and Family Services after an internal investigation revealed she gave family members and friends more benefits than they were entitled to, according to documents in her personnel file.

Although she isn’t accused of getting any cash out of the record tampering for herself, the woman is expected to pay restitution, said Gina Buccino-Arnaut, Trumbull County trial attorney.

Amy Clauss, 43, Gretchen Drive NE, Warren, pleaded guilty June 11 in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court to a felony charge of tampering with records. She was indicted in August 2017 by a Trumbull County grand jury on charges of forgery, theft in office and tampering with records.

Clauss is free on a $5,000 personal recognizance bond and pleaded not guilty to the original charges, according to court records. Clauss is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 1 by Judge Peter J. Kontos.

“JFS is out about $17,000,” Buccino-Arnaut said. “Over the course of time, (JFS investigators) determined she was making it so friends or family members could receive more benefits than they were entitled to.”

Ronald Yarwood, listed in court records as Clauss’ attorney, did not return a message left for him at his office. A voicemail for an alternative number listed for Yarwood was not able to accept messages.

Clauss was hired Jan. 2, 2013, as an eligibility referral specialist at $14.40 an hour, according to her personnel file.

On March 15, 2017, a JFS employee received an anonymous tip, according to pre-disciplinary report.

“The caller was very insistent that the employee was helping her friends and family to receive benefits they were not entitled to. The caller did not give any names,” the report states.

An investigation found Clauss worked inappropriately on cases for six family members, four friends on a social media website and three people with no know association to Clauss, the report states.

Based on client sign-in records, the people who received the benefits weren’t in the JFS office on the days Clauss’ casework indicated they were, the report states. And Clauss violated department policy by working at all on cases for clients who are friends and family, the report states. The investigation also found Clauss worked inappropriately on cases that were assigned to co-workers, the report states.

Clauss worked improperly on cases in 2014, 2015 and 2016, for a nephew, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, a niece, mother-in-law, possibly a cousin, social media friends and people considered “non-friends” of Clauss, according to the report. Some of the cases resulted in overpayments to the clients.

At the disciplinary hearing, Clauss said she never intentionally did anything “incorrectly,” that her husband’s family is estranged and she was told to work on the cases. A woman advocating for Clauss at the meeting said Clauss is a strong employee, that the caseload for Clauss and her co-workers was “overwhelming” and she did not intend to give anyone inappropriate benefits.

There were numerous other disciplinary letters in Clauss’ file.

In 2016, she was reprimanded for “ranting” on her cell phone while using foul language after a supervisor asked her to get off the phone and help a client, according to Clauss’ personnel file. She was counseled for parking in areas designated for clients, filing out slips for time off inaccurately, and in 2014 for a social media post using strong language and insults to complain about supervisors.

Clauss was placed on unpaid administrative leave April 6, 2017. She was going to be terminated May 2, but resigned the night before in an email, her file states.