A 72-year-old Bristol, Va., man will serve two years in federal prison for cashing in his dead mother’s Social Security checks for 40 years.
A tearful David Ross said Friday he’s sorry for keeping the $318,492 and would pay back every cent if he could.
“I was stupid not to … end this,” Ross said in U.S. District Court in Abingdon. “Please, your honor, give me a chance.”
But Judge James P. Jones, picking from the high end of the sentencing guidelines, said a message had to be sent to society.
“For Mr. Ross to receive a slap on the wrist for his theft … would not serve to deter others,” Jones said.
Ross began to cash the checks shortly after his live-in mother, Sally Brodsky, 63, died of cancer at a New York hospital in 1971, court documents show.
Her benefit checks kept rolling in even after her death because neither the family nor the funeral home told the Social Security Administration, court documents show. Also, the line reserved on her death certificate for a Social Security number is filled with “unknown.”
Last September, Ross pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements and six counts of theft of government property.
Before pleading guilty, Ross vanished from his home in Bristol and attempted to hide in Palm Coast, Fla., court records show. He initially denied his identity to agents who tracked him to Florida, documents state, but eventually admitted he was the person they were seeking.
“Oh, I had to try,” Ross told the agents, court records state.
On Friday, federal prosecutor Jennifer Bockhorst pointed to how long the check-cashing crime continued when she argued for a punishment that exceeded the sentencing guidelines of 18 months to two years in jail.
“He chose every day to commit a crime for over 40 years,” Bockhorst said.
The Social Security Administration began investigating in 2010, after Brodsky’s name landed on the agency’s centenarian project list, which verifies the existence of benefits recipients who have reached their 103rd birthday.
Documents show that Ross initially lied by telling investigators in 2010 that his mother was alive but could not meet with them because she was visiting relatives. He then claimed that she died Dec. 5, 2010, while visiting family in New Jersey.
Agents arrested Ross on July 28, 2011, and have held him in prison since.
On Friday, long-time companion Loretta Knight, 75, testified that life without Ross is difficult on the family.
“Please, please, I need to take him home,” Knight sobbed. “When you get older you don’t know how much time you have left.”