OIG, USAO in Western Washington Partner to Identify, Prosecute Social Security Fraud

January 13, 2017

From the U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Washington:

Federal investigators from the Social Security Office of Inspector General (SSA-OIG) and prosecutors from the United States Attorney’s office are wrapping up a productive year of combatting fraud and abuse of critical Social Security programs, announced U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. Using a variety of government databases and computer tools, investigators successfully identified individuals who defrauded government programs meant to support those truly in need. The United States Attorney’s office prosecuted cases based on those investigations resulting in more than $1.6 million in court-ordered restitution in 2016, with more cases in the pipeline.

“Investigators from the Social Security Office of Inspector General are using available tools to identify those who scam federal benefit programs,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. “The misconduct uncovered includes accepting benefits for family members who have left the country, collecting under multiple identities, and lying about financial circumstances in order to appear eligible for benefits. These frauds harm not only the taxpayers, but those who are in fact needy and thus qualify for aid. The strong partnership between my office and SSA-OIG ensures more dollars are available for those who truly need them.”

In 2016, prosecutors prosecuted fifteen cases that are now complete or awaiting sentencing. In the largest total fraud case, Travis Edward Fischer was ordered to pay back more than $466,000 for collecting benefits under a fictitious identity. Two other cases where defendants stole people’s real identities added up to $250,000 in fraud. Each of these three cases resulted in significant prison time for the defendants and orders to pay back the fraudulent gains.

A second series of cases involves Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit recipients whose adult children illegally continued to accept and spend benefit dollars after the recipient left the country. The adult children of the recipients lied and said the parent continued to live in the U.S. so that they could continue to access the payments. If an SSI recipient leaves the U.S. for a month or more, payments are to cease. In some cases, the adult child failed to disclose that the parent had died and continued to collect benefits. The fraud in those six cases exceeds $350,000.

The third set of cases involves defendants who lied about their household income to collect need-based benefits. In four such cases, recipients falsely claimed to be divorced or separated from their spouse in order to collect benefits. In a fifth case, the defendants submitted a forged letter and forged paystubs from an employer claiming substantially less income that was actually paid. Defendants in those five cases were ordered to pay back fraudulently secured benefits of more than $350,000.

Other cases include: defendants collecting disability benefits while working (and hiding their work from the Social Security Administration); defendants claiming to collect benefits on behalf of a minor child but using the benefits themselves; and, defendants using others’ Social Security numbers to falsify identification documents.

“Special Agents of the Office of the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration remain steadfast in their commitment to investigate allegations of fraud, waste, and abuse in Social Security programs,” said SSA-OIG Special Agent in Charge Steuart Markley. “We are grateful for our partnerships with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington and the Social Security Administration’s Seattle Region fraud prosecutor, and for their collaborative efforts in bringing to justice those who would otherwise violate the public trust by defrauding Social Security and the American taxpayer.”

The cases were all investigated by the SSA-OIG with the assistance of other local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Prosecution of these cases is the top priority of Special Assistant United States Attorney Benjamin Diggs. Mr. Diggs is an attorney with the Social Security Administration specially designated to prosecute fraud cases in federal court.