From the U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Washington:
A former Bellevue, Washington resident who collected his deceased mother’s Social Security benefits for more than 20 years was sentenced to prison today for his fraud, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. RAYMOND C. O’DELL, 70, who now resides in Arizona, was sentenced to six months in federal prison, six months of home detention, $188,436 in restitution and a $20,000 fine for theft of government funds. O’DELL is the last of a series of defendants to be sentenced for illegally collecting Social Security benefits after the true recipient died. In this case O’DELL collected his mother’s Social Security benefits for 23 years, and on at least two occasions provided false information to the Social Security Administration to continue the fraud. At sentencing U.S. District Judge James L. Robart said O’DELL’s “decades of criminal behavior” required a prison sentence.
“Cheaters shred the safety net for those that really need it,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. “It is disheartening to see this criminal conduct persist for 23 years even as the defendant built a successful business. Those who might be tempted to cheat the government of these funds need to know prison and hefty fines wait at the end of the scheme.”
According to records filed in the case, O’DELL’s mother died in November 1989, but he failed to notify Social Security and benefits continued to be paid into their joint account. On at least two occasions between November 1989 and June 2012, O’DELL contacted the Social Security Administration to update his mother’s contact information and never informed anyone of her death. In May of 2012, a Social Security Administration representative attempted to contact O’DELL’s mother by phone. O’DELL answered and said his mother was visiting a neighbor and promised to schedule a time for O’DELL’s mother to speak with the representative. Instead, O’DELL contacted a lawyer who contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office about the criminal conduct. In fact, O’DELL had not only defrauded Social Security. He also fraudulently collected $100,000 in pension benefits from the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System. O’DELL is scheduled to enter a plea and be sentenced for that fraud in Ohio later this week.
Seven other defendants have been charged over the last year with theft of government funds for fraudulently collecting Social Security benefits for years after their parents’ death. As a result of the prosecutions, courts in this district have ordered in excess of $1 million in restitution to the United States. The following are the longest running of these frauds:
PATTY BUCHANAN, 57 is one of the largest Social Security benefit fraud cases prosecuted as part of the initiative in the Western District of Washington. BUCHANAN’s father died in May 1993, but she continued to receive and cash his benefit checks using a check cashing business. She told the outlet her father was infirm and homebound and that she had power of attorney. Every month for 19 years she cashed the checks – in all, 235 checks for a total of $239,083. When one of the tellers at the check cashing business became suspicious, BUCHANAN forged a fraudulent power of attorney document. When staffers at the outlet called to try to speak with BUCHANAN’s father, BUCHANAN had a male friend pretend to be her father. Ultimately, an anonymous tip to Social Security ended the fraud in December 2012. BUCHANAN was sentenced to 18 months in prison in June 2013.
DENNIS JAY GORIN, 76, of Eatonville, fraudulently collected about $100,000 in Social Security benefits belonging to his mother following her death in around 2003. GORIN did not notify federal or state authorities of his mother’s death and personally disposed of his mother’s body on property in a rural area. Between 2003 and 2013, GORIN forged his mother’s signature to embezzle an estimated $100,000 worth of Social Security benefits. GORIN pleaded guilty on May 21, 2013, and was sentenced in September 2013 to ten months in prison.
CLAUDIA RUTH GREENAMYER, 72, of University Place, fraudulently collected $219,960 following the death of her mother in 1996 and her father in 2000. The payments were made to bank accounts GREENAMYER held jointly with her parents. GREENAMYER continued to use the money without telling Social Security her parents were deceased. She forged signatures to continue the theft, and when confronted by agents in February 2013, she claimed to have seen her parents one month earlier. GREENAMYER pleaded guilty to theft of government funds on May 15, 2013 and was sentenced in September 2013 to three months in prison.
DAVID MICHAEL COSTA, 77, of Sammamish, fraudulently collected $297,948 of his mother’s Social Security benefits following her death in 1989. While COSTA originally thought the payments coming to the joint bank account were from an annuity, in 1992 he learned they were Social Security payments. Rather than alert authorities and pay back the $40,000 that had wrongly been paid, COSTA continued to collect the benefits for more than 15 years. COSTA forged his mother’s name on documents and substituted his address for hers on all records, updating it three different times over the years. COSTA pleaded guilty on June 3, 2013, and was sentenced in September 2013 to ten months in prison.
These cases were investigated by the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General (SSA-OIG) and are being prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Seth Wilkinson as part of a partnership venture between the Social Security Administration Office of General Counsel and the United States Attorney’s Office.
Article from Seattlepi.com here
A Bellevue fast food entrepreneur caught collecting Social Security benefits meant for his dead mother faces six months in jail.
Taco Bell franchise owner of Raymond C. O’Dell stole nearly $200,000 in benefits by hiding his mother’s death from the government for 23 years. O’Dell, 70, was found out after a Social Security worker asked to speak with his long-dead mother and ultimately pleaded guilty to federal charges.
O’Dell also bilked the Ohio state pension system by continuing to draw his mother’s pension payments after her death in November 1989. He stole $100,000 from the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System over the years, and is expected to plead guilty to those thefts later in January.
Prosecutors in Seattle note that O’Dell continued stealing from the social services while amassing millions. O’Dell’s accountant puts his net worth just shy of $4 million; about $431,000 of that was in cash.
Asking that O’Dell be sentenced to six months in federal detention followed by six months under house arrest, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Wilkinson said the money O’Dell stole was meant to help widows, orphans and the elderly.
Instead, it went to a man with considerable means. While his attorney claims O’Dell was nearly broke when the thefts began, he continued stealing from Social Security as a multi-millionaire.
“Social Security fraud cases often involve genuinely impoverished persons who steal to improve an otherwise desperate existence,” Wilkinson said in court papers. “While those circumstances do not excuse theft from social programs, they mitigate the crime.
“Here, however, (O’Dell) has had a lucrative business career as the owner of fast food restaurants and real estate.”
O’Dell claims his mother’s death coincided with a string of financial disasters and health problems. Writing the court, his attorney said O’Dell was in a dire situation when he made the “fateful decision” to start stealing. After that, he had no way to back off the thefts without exposing himself as a fraud.
“While none of this is offered to excuse or attempt to justify Mr. O’Dell’s crime, it simply describes a desperate, but good man, who saw an opportunity to provide for his family’s health in 1989, when he was at his lowest point, and took it,” defense attorney Laurence Finegold said in a memo to the court. “Like making a deal with the devil, however, once that decision was made there was no way out for Mr. O’Dell.”
In the years since, O'Dell bought and operated Taco Bell franchises in the Seattle area. He and his wife recently moved to Arizona, where they hoped to retire.
Finegold went on to claim O’Dell and his wife of 42 years will have drained their accounts by the time O’Dell repays the money he stole. Compounding his troubles, O’Dell will likely be unable to draw Social Security due to the fraud.
Through his attorney, O’Dell asked that he be spared a jail sentence and instead serve 120 days under house arrest, as well as 200 hours of community service. Finegold pointed to his client’s declining health as a key argument for leniency in his case.
Wilkinson, though, argued decades of theft from a government program for the needy demand jail time. That O’Dell avoided getting caught until he was elderly, the prosecutor said in court papers, shouldn’t allow him to avoid time in custody.
“Workers, taxpayers, and beneficiaries of Social Security programs are all rightly outraged by theft of this scale from the Social Security trust fund. The community needs to see that theft of public money on this scale results in prison time proportionate to the scale of the theft.
O’Dell is scheduled to be sentenced Monday by U.S. District Judge James Robart. He is not currently in custody.