SALISBURY — A couple accused of fraudulently receiving more than $49,000 in medical benefits from the state appear close to reaching a plea deal with an Essex County prosecutor. 

John and Tina Eaton of Dover, New Hampshire, were charged in January with larceny over $1,200 by single scheme and filing a false statement for medical assistance.

John Eaton’s attorney, Geoff Stone, was in Newburyport District Court on Thursday to tell Judge Peter Doyle that his client was considering an offer made by an Essex County prosecutor that would keep him out of jail.

Essex County prosecutor Shailagh Kennedy said the plea deal would sentence John Eaton to two years probation and 100 hours of community service. The hours of community service would be in lieu of paying back the state because, according to Kennedy, the Eatons don’t have the financial means. 

But Stone said he was hoping to avoid a guilty plea and asked that Doyle consider a continued without a finding ruling. Stone also told Doyle that Tina Eaton, who is being represented by Jack Humphries, was close to a plea deal. 

Doyle decided to hold John Eaton’s case a day, to Friday, so both husband and wife can be in the courtroom together and potentially resolve both cases. 

Larceny over $1,200 carries a maximum penalty of five years in state prison and a $25,000 fine, while filing a false statement for medical assistance is punishable by up to a year behind bars. 

Court documents show that a state Bureau of Special Investigations agent accused the Eatons of collecting $49,305 in MassHealth benefits over a period of seven years from May 2011 to May 2018 by claiming to be Salisbury residents. 

The Eatons were able to give the impression they lived in Salisbury by listing different addresses. Among the witnesses listed for a possible trial was a Seabrook woman who said the Eatons lived in her home from May 1, 2011, to Dec. 31, 2017, according to court records. 

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