A law enforcement measure that has had mixed results in hunting down fugitives among the sick and disabled is expanding to target the much larger ranks of retired Americans, the Los Angeles Times says. Thousands of unsuspecting retirees could lose their Social Security checks in the months ahead, some over false or unproven allegations, minor infractions, or long-dormant arrest warrants. The Fugitive Felon Project was created by Congress in 1996 to help apprehend suspects and to prevent fleeing criminals from using government benefits to elude arrest.
Computers already match names on various welfare lists with names on felony warrants issued around the country. That screening process has led to thousands of arrests among recipients of disability checks alone, including 88 wanted on homicide charges. Some regarded as fugitives and denied benefits turned out to have been in nursing homes or wheelchairs and were physically unable to flee. “They’re not fleeing suspects; they’re sitting ducks,” said Bruce Schweiger, deputy public defender for Los Angeles County and a critic of the project. In one case, a Georgia man had his disability checks cut off for four months over an unpaid 1978 motel bill in Seattle.