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Cottage Grove woman sentenced after she hit jackpot at casino while collecting welfare

Amber L. Reyes won thousands of dollars gambling, all the while unlawfully cashing in on the welfare system.

The Cottage Grove woman had unusual luck at the casino, netting nearly $300,000 in winnings over a three year period. During that time, she also was collecting food support, medical assistance and child care benefits that exceeded $20,000, according to court records.

Reyes' lucky streak ended early last year when Washington County Community Services notified authorities of a fraud case. The 28-year-old Reyes was later convicted of wrongfully obtaining assistance, a felony.

Against prosecutors' objections this month, Reyes' sentence allowed her to choose home monitoring or serving on a work crew over more jail time.

"We're not fond of that," Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said of the sentencing.

According to the criminal complaint:

After being tipped off by Community Services, a Washington County sheriff's detective verified that Reyes had collected $2,640 in gambling winnings in 2007, followed by much larger winnings of $212,880 in 2008 and $63,600 a year later.

Reyes received welfare benefits totaling $20,547 between February 2008 and October 2009. She had filled out the required applications, but did not report her gambling winnings, which is required.

When a detective interviewed Reyes, she admitted to the casino winnings and claimed she didn't report the money when applying for welfare because she spent all of the gambling winnings right away and lost money in most years. Bank statements showed no deposited winnings, but she withdrew money frequently from an ATM at Treasure Island Resort and Casino near Red Wing.

"The defendant admitted winning jackpots in excess of $10,000 some nights, but because she spent it all right away, did not believe it needed to be reported," the complaint said.

Orput said the Reyes case is unusual.

"The only thing I find of interest is that she actually won, because it's set up not to," he said of casino gambling.

Welfare resources have been "cut to the bone" and there are people who genuinely need the assistance, Orput said, adding: "And it pisses us off when we give them to the wrong people."

Welfare fraud cases are not common in Washington County, Orput added.

Reyes' Nov. 9 sentence included 60 days in jail and 10 years of probation. She must attend problem gambling meetings. She also was required to pay $20,547 in restitution to Washington County Community Services.

Reyes' attorney could not be reached for comment.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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