ROCKLAND — A Warren woman who bilked the state out of more than $200,000 in welfare benefits over more than a decade was sentenced Wednesday to nine months in jail.

Robin L. Snell, 46, pleaded guilty Wednesday in Knox County Superior Court to misdemeanor theft by deception and a misdemeanor charge of making false written statements.

Justice Bruce Mallonee sentenced Snell to nine months in jail on the theft charge and a completely suspended 364-day jail sentence for the falsification charge. Snell will be on probation for a year after getting out of jail.

She will begin serving her sentence on Sept. 2. Snell was also ordered to repay the state $229,157.

The Warren woman was indicted in September 2016 by a Knox County grand jury on charges of felony theft and felony forgery.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services declared at the time that it was the largest case of consumer welfare fraud it had uncovered.

Assistant Attorney General Darcy Mitchell said it remains the largest such case in which an indictment was issued.

The sentence agreement and dismissal of the felony counts followed the loss of three audio interviews of witnesses by an investigator from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, state officials said. Mitchell said that the state turned over 14 binders worth of evidence to the defense but DHHS was unable to locate the audio interviews.

In addition, there was the possibility that the credibility of a government witness could be challenged, she said. The identity of the witness was not revealed and court records show that information on that witness was sealed.

Those issues and the uncertainty of whether a conviction would have been obtained led the state to agree to the sentence imposed on Wednesday. The prosecutor said if Snell had gone to trial and been convicted, the state would have requested that Snell serve multiple years in prison.

“You caught an enormous break,” Justice Mallonee told Snell at her sentencing hearing.

He said the case was a very disturbing one on two counts. He said the unintentional breakdown of the system that led to the loss of evidence was disturbing.

But more disturbing was the theft of public benefits.

“When someone cheats, it smears everyone else who is truly in need. It smears all the mothers who work jobs and raise kids on their own to make a living. It smears the disabled who receive benefits,” Mallonee said.

And taxpayers are victimized, the judge pointed out.

According to the prosecutor, from October 2002 through November 2013, Snell received public assistance in the form of MaineCare, food stamps, Temporary Aid for Needy Families, Aspire, and Parents with Scholars.

She received the benefits because she said she lived in a home where she was the sole source of income and that her husband did not live with her. The state would have provided bank records, income tax records, motor vehicle registration records and interviews with neighbors that the husband lived in the household and provided income, Mitchell said.

At the time of her indictment, defense attorney Steven Peterson of Rockport said his client denied doing anything wrong.

“The state is trying to make her the poster child for welfare fraud because of its budget problems,” Peterson said at her initial court appearance in October 2016.

He said in 2016 that Snell received benefits years earlier but made full disclosure to the state when she applied for the aid.

At the time of the indictment, Samantha Edwards, the communications director for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services issued a statement.

“This is the most common type of welfare fraud we see where an individual lies about their income or living situation. This case is not unique, and the length of time it occurred is not likely unique. [Gov. Paul LePage’s administration] has spent the last five and a half years focusing efforts on identifying and prosecuting welfare fraud. We must continue to have zero tolerance for people who intentionally abuse taxpayer funded welfare benefits,” according to the DHHS statement.

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