Sep 13, 1:04 PM EDT

New Jersey officials face criticism of a program that allows residents of one county who received unwarranted Medicaid benefits to withdraw without prosecution

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TOMS RIVER, N.J. (AP) -- About three dozen people accused New Jersey officials of going soft on crime after a program was introduced to allow residents who received unwarranted Medicaid benefits to withdraw without prosecution.

Authorities had planned a seminar Tuesday night in Toms River for Ocean County residents who would benefit from the program.

Lakewood resident Molly Hernon and others showed up instead, according to the Asbury Park Press (http://on.app.com/2xZfGJr ), and they grilled state Comptroller Phillip Degnan for more than an hour.

Hernon claimed people are getting away with taxpayer money.

The 90-day program was created after 26 Lakewood residents in June were accused of wrongfully collecting more than $2 million in public-assistance benefits. The program is only open to Ocean County residents.

"If your main concern with the program is that people aren't going to jail, jail is not the likely outcome no matter what," Degnan said. He said many first-time offenders are offered a probationary option that leads to a dismissal of charges.

Several residents shared outrage on social media and called for those who accepted the benefits to face prosecution.

A spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor said they do not have authority over how the state agency handles the program. He said the office will prosecute on the behalf of a fraud victim if they come forward.

Applications for the program are due Dec. 12.


Information from: Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, http://www.app.com

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