Pa. man charged with welfare fraud after collecting $206k in natural gas royalties

A Pennsylvania man who got $1,700 in public assistance to help pay for his utility bills somehow forgot to mention to welfare officials that he also collected more than $206,000 in royalties from a natural gas drilling operation.

John Basista, 50, of Sewickley Township, is accused of not saying anything about the money when he applied for state assistance, reports CBS News affiliate KDKA. In a court affidavit, an official for the Pennsylvania Office of Inspector General said that he claimed his sister paid his living expenses because he couldn't, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Basista is charged with fraudulently obtaining food stamps and public assistance. He co-owns a gas well near his home, which was willed to him by his mother. He entered a lease agreement with Atlas America LLC in 2009 and was supposed to split 15 percent of oil and gas production monies from the wells, the Tribune-Review said.

But he assigned 7.5 percent in royalties to other people for money, and claims he gets no income. He said he has been out of work for seven years due to a health condition. "I haven't worked since 2007. So what does a royalty check have to do with food stamps?"

The application for public assistance that Basista filled out does not ask if the recipient would be receiving royalties as part of their income. But welfare department spokesperson Kat Gillis said that it royalties would qualify as income.

"It's the individual's responsibility to report the income coming into them," she said.

Basista is scheduled for a court hearing August 14, according to records.

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