NEWBURYPORT — A Byfield man charged with collecting more than $14,000 in MassHealth benefits he did not qualify for avoided jail time Tuesday but was ordered to pay back the money.
After reaching a plea deal with Essex County prosecutors, Andrew P. Rich, 30, of Central Court admitted in Newburyport District Court that he could be found guilty of larceny over $1,200 by single scheme and filing a false statement for medical assistance with the state.
Both charges were continued without a finding for a year. During that time, Rich must pay $14,760 to the state, remain drug and alcohol free, and stay out of trouble with the law.
Rich, who lived in Ipswich at the time of the offense, said he was going to pay back $13,000 immediately.
Minutes before resolving the larceny charge, he also admitted he could be found guilty of unarmed robbery and possessing counterfeit notes related to a robbery in April 2020 that occurred in Pearson’s Plaza in Byfield. Both charges were continued without a finding for a year and Rich was ordered to pay the victim $600 in restitution.
When Newbury police tried questioning Rich about the robbery, he told them he was infected with COVID-19, prompting the officers to leave.
Police later learned the statement was false and charged him with intimidating a witness. That charge was dismissed Tuesday as part of the plea agreement.
At the time of the Pearson’s Plaza incident, Rich faced charges of fraudulently collecting state health benefits.
His accomplice in the robbery, Leah Gibeley, 27, of Haverhill, also was charged with unarmed robbery and possessing counterfeit notes. The charges against Gibeley were dismissed Tuesday.
Rich signed up for health insurance through MassHealth in 2017 and did not mention he was working at the time, which would have made him ineligible, according to an Essex County prosecutor.
Over several months, Rich collected $14,760 from the state despite earning more than $50,000 in wages. State investigators caught on and began an investigation.
Rich was arraigned on the charges in Ipswich District Court on Feb. 24, 2020. That court is located in the same building as Newburyport District Court.
Court records show that Rich and Gibeley met a woman at Pearson’s Plaza, just off Interstate 95, on April 5, 2020, about 9 p.m. after agreeing to buy two iPhones and other items. They had set up the meeting on Letgo, an online marketplace, and agreed to meet at the plaza.
There, Rich handed the woman $730 in fake bills for the phones, a phone case, a cable, a charger and perfume bottles.
Before getting back into her car, the woman noticed the bills looked fake, some of them labeled with the phrase “For motion picture use only,” and asked Rich if he had made a mistake.
Concerned, the woman asked them to give the items back to her, which they did. She then got into the car but was unable to close the door because Gibeley blocked it.
“So I grabbed my Taser and warned them that I will use it if they don’t let me leave,” the victim stated, according to Sgt. Stephen Jenkins’ report.
Gibeley got out of the way, allowing the woman to close the door. But before she was able to drive away, Rich reached inside and grabbed a bag containing her items. Fearing for her safety, the woman drove away. Rich and Gibeley fled on foot.
Based on descriptions from witnesses and video footage of the parking lot, Jenkins believed Rich to be one of the two people involved. With help from a Rowley police officer, Jenkins drove to Rich’s Central Court home to speak to him.
Once Rich noticed the officers at his door, he told them he was feeling sick. Carrying a bottle of Pedialyte as he opened the front door, Rich told them he had been home all day.
“He suddenly began to cough dramatically and laid on the interior stairs, stating he was sick and likely had COVID-19,” Jenkins wrote in his report.
Concerned for their safety, the officers stepped away from the front door and asked if Rich wanted an ambulance. He said no. When asked if he had been tested, he said his symptoms “just started.”
While still laying on the stairs, Rich continued to appear sick as officers asked him more questions. Rich accused the woman of hitting him with her car and saying he was delirious. The interview abruptly ended when Rich exclaimed he was done speaking, according to Jenkins’ report.
In an interview with police about the same time, the woman handed over the fake money.
On April 10, a Newbury police officer drove by Rich’s home and spotted him doing manual labor, apparently healthy.
“He was not displaying any of the symptoms I observed on April 5,” Jenkins wrote in his report.
Dave Rogers is a reporter with the Daily News of Newburyport. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008.