LEWISTON — Maine officials are stepping up efforts to catch and convict welfare cheats.

In 2011, grand juries in Maine returned 12 indictments for welfare fraud, double the number in 2010, according to the Sun Journal.

State prosecutors also secured 10 convictions last year, up from 8 in 2010.

And already in 2012, charges have been lodged against eight defendants in the Lewiston area alone.

While the Maine Attorney General’s Office investigates most crimes against the state, the Department of Health and Human Services is solely charged by law with investigating welfare fraud.

DHHS investigators are better trained to spot cases in which people getting benefits they don’t deserve, according to the Sun Journal.

Local police are also assisting on more cases, and state prosecutors are putting more time and resources into these crime, state officials said.

Attorney General William Schneider credited himself and Gov. Paul LePage with a renewed focus on welfare fraid.

Maine officials said they recovered $2 million in overpayments in 2011, but they believe there was actually $4 million in overpayments.

Schneider said the state may actually lose money by seeking out and prosecuting more cases, but it’s important to fight to the abuse to preserve the state’s credibility.

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