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Investigator: Potsdam-area man admitted burying elderly couple

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By W.T. ECKERT

FOWLER — Felony welfare fraud charges against the man who told investigators he buried an elderly couple behind his mobile home in Stockholm will be handed up to a St. Lawrence County grand jury.

Robert A. Bartlett Jr., 42, of 733 May Road, Stockholm, was charged with three counts of first-degree offering a false instrument for filing and one count of third-degree welfare fraud, all felonies.

Following testimony in a preliminary hearing Friday by St. Lawrence County Department of Social Services investigator Sindy Afriat, Fowler Town Justice Paul M. Lamson said there was enough evidence to conclude that a felony was committed and he heldover for possible grand jury action.

Bartlett admitted to authorities in March that he buried the bodies of Alvin S. Babcock, 84, and his wife, Betty D., 82, Ms. Afriat said. The bodies were exhumed March 21 and 24 from the backyard of Bartlett’s May Road property and positively identified.

Bartlett is accused of receiving food stamps and heating assistance from DSS from Nov. 21, 2012, to Feb. 28 totaling $3,258, while gaining access to Mr. Babcock’s Social Security checks and New York state retirement payments for his own use.

Ms. Afriat said Bartlett told her in a telephone call Feb. 5 that he had been receiving $1,135 a month from Mr. Babcock as a debt owed for taking care of the elderly couple. He said he didn’t consider it income, which is why he never reported it.

Ms. Afriat said DSS wouldn’t calculate a debt being paid as income.

When welfare fraud investigators looked to reach Babcock to speak to him about the money, they could not locate him, Ms. Afriat said.

According to a March 18 interview with state police Senior Investigator Timothy J. Peets, Investigator Christopher M. Nye, Ms. Afriat and DSS senior social welfare investigator/examiner Liz Thomas, Bartlett told investigators he had buried Mr. Babcock six to eight months after he moved in with him. Mrs. Babcock was already living at the May Road trailer.

“Mr. Bartlett admitted that he had buried Alvin,” Ms. Afriat said. “He said he had done what Alvin and Betty wanted him to do and buried them in his backyard.He stated it was cold out when he buried him, in 2011 or 2012,” Ms. Afriat said. “He had been receiving money from Alvin since June 2012.”

Public Defender Stephen D. Button and Assistant Public Defender Robert H. Ballan argued that the prosecution had not proved that Bartlett committed welfare fraud, as there was no sign of intent to defraud the state.

“The evidence does not match up to the felony complaint,” Mr. Button said. “It is difficult to cognitively believe that Mr. Bartlett would self-report and not believe that he wasn’t receiving an owed debt.”

St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary E. Rain said it was hard to believe that Bartlett “had this epiphany in February 2014 to report” money he had been collecting for about 19 months.

After reviewing the charges, Judge Lamson said, “I believe that welfare fraud has been committed.”

After considering that Bartlett is indigent and disabled, missing his left leg, Judge Lamson lowered bail from $40,000 cash or $20,000 bond to $10,000 cash and bond and returned him to St. Lawrence County Correctional Facility.

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