Steamboat Springs Officials believe when a German man allegedly purchased $4,000 worth of food when a mistake was made on his food stamp debit card, it could have marked the beginning of a costly case for Routt County.
Currently, Sascha Karl Fischer is being held in the Routt County Jail. Fischer, who was receiving government assistance, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to a felony charge of theft and three other offenses.
Fischer, 26, faces the theft charge for allegedly buying $4,000 worth of groceries Jan. 31 after his food stamp account was mistakenly credited with $10,600.
"This is just the beginning," said Deputy District Attorney Charles Feldmann, who is prosecuting the case. "But more than a dollar goes into seeking justice."
Officials believe it is unlikely Fischer, who is indigent, will be able to pay restitution or jail costs if he is convicted.
"The likelihood of the community to recover any restitution is slim," Feldmann said. "That is disappointing."
Feldmann believes Fischer's case could be costly if it goes to trial.
"If we go through the insanity plea and a trial, it could be a year before the case is even tried," he said.
The longer the case takes to resolve means more expense for Routt County Sheriff John Warner.
Warner is frustrated that it is unlikely Fischer will be able to pay the $42.50 it costs per day to house an inmate in the county jail.
Fischer has been in jail since Feb. 8 and has been unable to post a $5,000 bond.
In recent years, Warner has asked judges in Routt County to order inmates to pay for cost of care when they are sentenced.
In 2000, the jail collected $52,400 from inmates.
If Fischer is convicted, Warner believes the man will not be able to pay for the costs because of his past experience with inmates who are not United States citizens.
"A lot of these guys do not have any financial resources," Warner said. "We see this quite often. The judge can order for him to pay restitution and cost for care but the defendant has no money."
Compounding Fischer's costs to Warner's office is Fischer's insanity plea. Warner will have to make arrangements to transport Fischer to the state's mental hospital in Pueblo.
Warner estimates it will cost at least $700 to have two deputies drive Fischer to Pueblo and then retrieve him when his competency and insanity evaluations are complete.
Warner said he is hopeful that if Fischer is convicted of the charges, the Immigration and Naturalization Service will take him into custody.
"We are going to request he gets deported," Warner said. "He is not a legal citizen of the United States."
Due to Fischer's arrest, the INS has placed a hold on him pending the outcome of the case.
Fischer, who was born in Germany, moved to the United States with his family when he was 7.
Fischer has the proper documents to be in the country, Feldmann said.
"He is not a U.S. citizen, but he is lawfully here," he said.
According to Fischer, he started receiving government assistance about six years ago when he suffered a head injury in Alaska. Fischer sustained the injury kickboxing.
Because of the injury, Fischer started to receive a disability check from the government, and he also qualified for food stamps.
It is not uncommon for a person who is not a U.S. citizen to receive governmental assistance, said Roy Shaw, a supervisor within the Colorado Department of Human Services.
Prior to 1997, immigrants in the country legally could qualify for government assistance, he said.
"With the welfare reform in 1997, legal aliens in the country are no longer eligible for government assistance," he said. "This decreased the number of our cases dramatically."
Although this reform went into effect, their are exceptions.
Legal aliens who were lawfully in the country before Aug. 22, 1996, are eligible to keep receiving government assistance if they are elderly, blind or disabled, he said. Shaw believes Fischer has been able to keep receiving assistance because he was "grandfathered in."
If Fischer is convicted of the felony theft charge, he faces two to six years in prison.
Fischer allegedly bought the groceries from three area stores in one day after he found out his account had been credited with $10,600.
The balance was entered into Fischer's account mistakenly Jan. 30 when a Routt County human services worker, Ruth Mewborn, put the decimal point in the wrong place on a computer program. Fischer was supposed to receive $106 in food assistance.
Fischer has claimed he thought the money credited to his account was for back pay.
The expensive cuts of meat and seafood Fischer allegedly bought has been donated to Euzoa Bible Church. The church is giving the food away to needy families in Routt County.
Along with the theft charge, Fischer also faces three other charges for allegedly providing false information on a state assistance application last summer.
Fischer has been charged with two class five felonies, offering a false instrument for recording and forgery of a government document. He also has been charged of second-degree perjury, a class one misdemeanor. Feldmann filed the charges based on the information Fischer supplied on the application, which requires an applicant to reveal their monthly income and expenses.
Fischer's next court appearance is set for 10 a.m. April 9.