LAKEWOOD — Arrests this week of 14 men and women accused of scamming state and federal welfare agencies out of hundreds of thousands of dollars have left this Ocean County community reeling.

New Jersey 101.5 spent Wednesday asking people on the streets about the news.

Many said they knew nothing about what had happened, or that they were just visiting the area, or that they were in a big hurry and simply could not stop to talk.

But a few others didn't seem convinced that the individuals arrested so far are guilty. Some just couldn't believe it.

Israel Levovitz said he finds the whole situation a bit confusing.

“I know some of the people who I was told are arrested. They are quite nice people, kind people to the community, very giving people and the community I know needs them,” he said.

“What happened and what should have happened, I don’t know," he said. “From our Jewish people, there’s no stealing, no burglaries, no killings. I mean, all these types of things doesn’t go on over here. It just shows how honest the people are over here, you know?”

John Jayek insisted we still don’t know what really happened.

“The government changes the story every day. You know, fake news. We’re back to the fake news story,” he said.

Jayek suggested those accused of stealing were only trying to help their families.

“Morality has no place in today’s society, so they don’t understand people have big families, they keep religion. They don’t understand that, so they say 'Ooohh, you’ve got a big family, you’re probably doing fraud.'”

On Monday, federal authorities arrested two couples while state officials arrested two other couples on charges that they scammed state and federal benefits meant for poor people. The U.S. Attorney's Office said the four people they charges had collected millions of dollars a year while living on the dole.

On Wednesday, six more people were arrested on state charges. Officials say even more people may be charged in the days or weeks ahead.

One young man, Avrohom Yoffe, said what happened was regrettable.

“It was a very bad thing. It was an unfortunate mistake that people were doing things they shouldn’t have been doing, and obviously they didn’t think it would come to this,” he said.

“I think we should learn from this and in the future we should try to be a hundred-percent straight, even if it’s not a hundred percent dishonest what was done.”

When asked if the arrests tarnish the image of Lakewood, he said: “I think overall, being that the Jews consider ourselves one nation, it’s a little bit of a bad image.”

A young boy standing nearby added, “I think it’s sad and it’s a shame.”

Hanna Gold said she wasn’t sure what happened but it would seem money is a big problem in today’s society.

Another young woman, Laura Elliott, said the allegations are upsetting and hurt the image of Lakewood.

“There’s hardworking people that they work to earn their money, and there’s people that are ripping hardworking people that pay their taxes,” she said.

Contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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