IRWIN (KDKA) – A Westmoreland County man is accused of applying for state assistance even though he was making hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties from natural gas drilling.
More and more landowners in our area are making a pretty penny off natural gas wells.
That apparently includes 50-year-old John Basista of Sewickley Township.
His last name is on the signs for a Chevron operation just above his home, and it’s alleged he didn’t mention he made more than $206,000 in royalties when he filled out an application for welfare.
“That’s wrong because there’s people who legitimately need it, like me,” says Brittany Bueche, of Latrobe. “I just lost my job.”
Bueche says if allegations are true, welfare fraud hurts people who really do need it.
“People take advantage of it and he’s not the only one. It kind of irks me, gets under my skin a little bit.
According to the criminal complaint, Basista took $1,700 of aid he didn’t deserve. An agent from the Welfare Office alleges he claimed his sister paid his expenses because he wasn’t able to.
“You don’t usually have someone who is over the limit for hundreds of thousands of dollars of extra income. That really puts this in a different category,” says Bruce Antkowiak, a law professor at Saint Vincent College.
Antkowiak has worked as both a prosecutor and defense attorney.
Even though there’s no specific section of the welfare application asking whether you have natural gas royalties, that’s clearly income.
“Income is income,” says Antkowiak. “The welfare system is predicated on the fact that the people who need it who genuinely need it.”
KDKA’s David Highfield tried to reach Basista to get is side of this, but his phone is temporarily disconnected.
However, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review reports he told them he’s out of work because of a medical condition, and he reportedly asked, “What’s a royalty check got to do with food stamps?”