Each year, our investigators pursue hundreds of cases of Social Security number (SSN) misuse. Many of those cases are related to Social Security benefit fraud; others are linked to immigration violations, bank fraud, or other forms of identity theft.
But every so often, our investigators come across a case in which a person goes to great lengths to become someone else—with a new name, date of birth, and SSN—to escape a troubled past.
We saw it in 2011, as CNBC reported in this feature. In that case, an OIG special agent located a man in Las Vegas—who was believed to have disappeared from Chicago and died in 1979—living under a different identity for 32 years.
And take, in another stunning example, the recent case of 58-year-old Ryan Lynn Flanagan.
He’s an Arizona man who allegedly hid from his past life in Florida for almost 34 years—but he couldn’t run forever, according to a recent investigation by Special Agent Brandon Bowron of our office in Phoenix.
In 2011, a man named James Ry Andersen appeared at a Social Security office in Arizona to make changes to his record. At that visit, an SSA employee noticed something unusual—“Mr. Andersen” had been issued an SSN when he was 36 years old. Most people receive their SSNs at birth, or when they begin to work as a teenager or young adult. Suspecting possible fraud, SSA asked Andersen to provide documents verifying his identity from before 1989. When he was unable to do so, SSA refused to make any changes to the record—and they referred the case to the OIG.
A copy of "James Andersen's" Arizona driver's license information.
The case landed on the desk of Special Agent Bowron. He began looking into the past of James Ry Andersen—but it quickly became clear that Andersen didn’t have a past. Instead, Agent Bowron found evidence that in 1989, a man had used false documents to apply for an SSN in Arizona, which he then used to assume the identity “James Ry Andersen” with a driver’s license and other documents. The man lived under the Andersen name and SSN for years, working, paying taxes, and even filing for bankruptcy in 1996.
When our special agents and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office approached the man on January 30, 2014, outside his Sun City, Arizona home, he initially maintained he was 60-year-old James Andersen. But when the man was told he was being charged with making false statements to Social Security, he soon acknowledged he was, in fact, Ryan Flanagan.
With Flanagan’s true identity revealed, Agent Bowron was able to locate two outstanding arrest warrants for Flanagan in Florida, on charges of violating probation and failure to appear for sentencing for involuntary sexual battery, issued in 1980.
Based on Agent Bowron’s investigative findings, a Maricopa County, Arizona grand jury indicted Flanagan on charges of fraud schemes and forgery on April 17. He is being held on a $250,000 bond.
Flanagan faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on the Arizona charges, in addition to at least 10 years for the Florida sexual offense conviction.