A federal judge today imposed a 30-day prison sentence on a Mount Vernon woman who kept Social Security disability checks after abandoning her severely disabled baby.
Prosecutors lobbied hard for prison time for Dawn Emanuel Byrd, arguing that her conduct was more egregious than most fraud and theft cases.
“I don’t think this is the typical Social Security case that warrants probation,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Overstreet said.
Byrd pleaded guilty in September, admitting that she had applied for and received disability benefits a month after her daughter’s birth in November 2003 on the basis that the baby had heart failure. Between that month and April 2011, she received $53,310.70 even though she had given up the baby to a McIntosh woman.
Byrd falsely stated on Social Security forms that the woman, Paula Taylor, cared for the child part time and the defendant gave the care-giver $250 every other month. In fact, according to court records, Byrd kept the entire amount.
Taylor testified today that she met a friend of Byrd’s at a Dollar General in Citronelle in February 2004 and ended up taking the baby home with the mother’s consent. She said she discovered that the baby had a tube and later learned that the child suffered from spina bifida and was not expected to live past her first birthday.
Taylor testified that she took the baby back to Byrd a few days later but retrieved her after the mother complained that the infant would not stop crying.
For the next three to four years, Taylor told the judge, she cared for the child with Byrd having little contact. She said the last time she even saw Byrd was before the girl began kindergarten. Meanwhile, Taylor testified, “We’ve been to the hospital hundreds of times.”
Byrd showed up for her baby’s second surgery but left before the child had been assigned a room, said Taylor, who added that the mother came only one other time for a hospital visit.
Taylor also testified that Byrd or a relative promised three different times that the defendant would give her money to help care for the baby but never followed through.
Taylor testified that she fought to get a government-funded aide to help the child in the Washington County school system. “I had to do a lot to get it,” she said.
To accomplish that, Taylor testified, Byrd signed papers giving her legal guardianship. Taylor testified that she got full legal custody in March 2011.
U.S. District Judge Kristi DuBose indicated that she did not believe Taylor’s testimony was relevant and noted that the defendant has no prior criminal history.
“First of all, I’m not here to decide whether Ms. Byrd is a good mother or not,” she said.
But the judge did say that she believes it is important to promote respect for the law. After the 30-day sentence, Byrd will spend three years on supervised release, with the first five months under home confinement.
DuBose also ordered the defendant to repay the $53,310.70, at a rate of $150 a month if she cannot afford the entire amount up front.