Schenectady County

Caseworker’s bogus reports draw no jail time

A Schenectady County Court judge on Tuesday sentenced a former county caseworker to probation for ly

A Schenectady County Court judge on Tuesday sentenced a former county caseworker to probation for lying about checking on a mother and her baby; the child later was discovered to be emaciated and suffering from malnutrition and dehydration.

And the judge also called on the county Department of Social Services to ensure such a problem never happens again.

A county official later noted the caseworker was immediately fired. Though he called the caseworker a “rogue,” County Attorney Christopher Gardner also said the county has “doubled down” on making sure a similar situation never happens again.

Judge Karen Drago Tuesday sentenced Milagros Noriega to five years of probation, which was agreed upon after her guilty plea earlier to one count of felony falsifying business records. The deal also included a provision that Noriega never again work as a caseworker or in any social services capacity.

Noriega, now of Albany, was accused of lying about checking on a mother and her baby. She pleaded guilty to a felony, admitting to falsifying records.

Drago noted that Noriega bears blame, but she also turned her attention to the social services system.

“I am concerned about this county’s ability with their current resources and finances to appropriately handle the needs of many of the families in this community,” Drago said. She wanted to know what kind of oversight caseworkers get. She also thought maybe there was the need for some cases to have more than one worker.

“Maybe this is an aberration,” Drago said, “but I do have concerns on oversight.”

Asked about the judge’s concerns later, Gardner noted that Noriega lied about doing her job and she was terminated as soon as that came to light. Gardner also noted that it’s been more than 15 months since it came to light.

“We think on balance that they do an outstanding job,” Gardner said of the department. “This was an aberration caused by essentially a rogue caseworker who didn’t follow the rules and essentially lied.”

Nonetheless, Gardner said, Social Services Commissioner Dennis Packard has tightened up the oversight in the system. Problems can still arise, Gardner said. “It’s a matter of assuring everybody does their job and does it truthfully.”

“When somebody perjures themselves on forms being reviewed, it’s hard to ferret out that as quickly as you would like to,” Gardner added later.

Noriega was indicted in January on multiple charges, including felony counts of falsifying business records and offering a false instrument for filing. She also faced misdemeanor counts of official misconduct and endangering the welfare of a child.

Noriega was accused of making false entries in her reports indicating that she was doing home visits that were never conducted, authorities have said.

The woman Noriega said she was visiting previously has been identified as Lucecita Alvarado; she was sentenced in June to time served, more than eight months, after pleading guilty to first-degree reckless endangerment.

The 39-year-old Alvarado admitted that she endangered the life of her infant son by failing to provide proper medical care and nourishment. The child, prosecutors said, barely survived and was skin and bones when other social services officials spotted the child on the mother’s visit to their office on June 18, 2010. The child was rushed to a hospital, severely malnourished and suffering from dehydration and heart failure; he has recovered.

Noriega was placed on administrative leave, and an investigation showed she lied about visits to the mother, county officials said. Her last day of county employment was July 2, 2010.

Noriega’s attorney, Arthur Frost, argued that Noriega’s false statements were not what caused the child’s health issues.

Noriega apologized for what she did. “I take responsibility for that,” she said.

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