Former Olympic runner accused of welfare fraud
SAN ANTONIO - A former Olympic athlete here in San Antonio indicted for welfare fraud and accused of receiving $64,000 in benefits while living in a half-million-dollar house.
News 4 Trouble Shooter Jaie Avila uncovered why she was allowed to pay back just a fraction of that to taxpayers.
Marathon runner Liza Hunter-Galvan went to the Olympics twice for her native New Zealand. The state of Texas alleged she unlawfully received food stamp and Medicaid benefits while making a substantial income and owning a 3,700 square-foot house.
Galvan is also a two-time winner of the Rock 'n Roll Marathon here in San Antonio, where she's lived since the 1980's. She became one of the city's most well-known female athletes after qualifying for the Olympics in 2004 and 2008.
But an indictment claims Galvan collected welfare benefits from 2012 to 2016.
“The allegations were welfare fraud, so basically she is collecting, the individual, the defendant was collecting money when there were other streams of income," said Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood.
An investigator claims Galvan deposited more than $600,000 into multiple accounts during that period.
And property records show she and her husband owned this home on two-and-a-half acres of land on the far Northwest side. The Bexar Appraisal District assessed its value at $491,530.
Galvan did not respond to our requests for an interview, but court records show the case against her was dismissed earlier this month. District Attorney Nico LaHood says an agreement was reached for Galvan to pay $10,000 in restitution.
Jaie Avila asked LaHood why his office did not insist Galvan pay back the full amount to taxpayers.
“Well you have restitution hearings and even though you want to get every penny back to taxpayers you have to prove it," LaHood responded.
LaHood blames the state's Office of Inspector General, which investigated the case, of not giving him enough evidence to prosecute.
“Unfortunately the investigation wasn't the way we wanted it, I mean we work with our law enforcement partners, I am not trying to be disrespectful to any of them but in this case, there were key pieces of evidence that were not kept, they were not preserved and that’s important for us to move forward."
The OIG, which investigates welfare fraud cases, defended itself in a statement saying:
“The Office of Inspector General conducted a complete investigation of Ms. Galvan and provided the information to the district attorney's office. The OIG supports the DA in their mission to prosecute fraud, waste and abuse, and OIG investigators are available throughout the legal process to provide any further information that is requested.
Galvan was banned from competing for two years after testing positive for a performance enhancing drug in 2009. Her husband told me she was out of the country and unable to respond to the welfare allegations.