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Washington Woman Sentenced for Disability Fraud Scheme

March 21, 2017

Office Affiliation: The Office of Investigations

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

A 36-year-old Steilacoom, Washington woman was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to 60 days home confinement and 100 hours of community service for defrauding Social Security Disability and the U.S. Army healthcare system of more than $100,000 in benefits, announced U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. MARIA SANCHEZ-KOUNTZ pretended to have terminal cancer to secure prescription opiates and Social Security disability benefits. At the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle noted that SANCHEZ-KOUNTZ is the sole parent to two children and imposed five years of probation and ordered her to pay $102,932 in restitution.

According to records filed in the case, between February 2012 and July 2016, SANCHEZ-KOUNTZ received disability payments because she claimed she could not work due to terminal cancer. She also received benefit payments for her children as part of her disability claims. SANCHEZ-KOUNTZ falsely reported a history of ovarian cancer that was treated with surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiation. When SANCHEZ-KOUNTZ visited doctors between 2011 and 2015, she described to them her false history of cancer, and that description was memorialized in her medical records, which she used as further proof of her condition. She repeatedly told doctors that she did not want any more chemotherapy or radiation, electing only palliative care that included prescription narcotics for her self-reported chronic pain and nausea. With this scheme, SANCHEZ-KOUNTZ, who at the time was married to a member of the U.S. military, stole more than $82,000 in disability payments and more than $20,000 in military medical benefits.

In fact, SANCHEZ-KOUNTZ was working for a Lakewood, Washington company as a seamstress during some of the period when she was collecting disability benefits. She even had a tailoring business that she promoted on a website by falsely claiming she was a cancer survivor. SANCHEZ-KOUNTZ’s scheme became known when medical professionals could not locate any records related to her prior treatment at medical facilities where she claimed to have been a patient.

The case was investigated by the Cooperative Disability Investigations Unit (CDIU), which is a disability fraud task force comprised of the Social Security Administration, Office of Inspector General (SSA-OIG), the Social Security Administration (SSA), the Washington State Patrol (WSP) and the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, Disability Determination Services (DDS). The case was prosecuted by 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.

A 36-year-old Steilacoom, Washington woman was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to 60 days home confinement and 100 hours of community service for defrauding Social Security Disability and the U.S. Army healthcare system of more than $100,000 in benefits, announced U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. MARIA SANCHEZ-KOUNTZ pretended to have terminal cancer to secure prescription opiates and Social Security disability benefits. At the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle noted that SANCHEZ-KOUNTZ is the sole parent to two children and imposed five years of probation and ordered her to pay $102,932 in restitution.

According to records filed in the case, between February 2012 and July 2016, SANCHEZ-KOUNTZ received disability payments because she claimed she could not work due to terminal cancer. She also received benefit payments for her children as part of her disability claims. SANCHEZ-KOUNTZ falsely reported a history of ovarian cancer that was treated with surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiation. When SANCHEZ-KOUNTZ visited doctors between 2011 and 2015, she described to them her false history of cancer, and that description was memorialized in her medical records, which she used as further proof of her condition. She repeatedly told doctors that she did not want any more chemotherapy or radiation, electing only palliative care that included prescription narcotics for her self-reported chronic pain and nausea. With this scheme, SANCHEZ-KOUNTZ, who at the time was married to a member of the U.S. military, stole more than $82,000 in disability payments and more than $20,000 in military medical benefits.

In fact, SANCHEZ-KOUNTZ was working for a Lakewood, Washington company as a seamstress during some of the period when she was collecting disability benefits. She even had a tailoring business that she promoted on a website by falsely claiming she was a cancer survivor. SANCHEZ-KOUNTZ’s scheme became known when medical professionals could not locate any records related to her prior treatment at medical facilities where she claimed to have been a patient.

The case was investigated by the Cooperative Disability Investigations Unit (CDIU), which is a disability fraud task force comprised of the Social Security Administration, Office of Inspector General (SSA-OIG), the Social Security Administration (SSA), the Washington State Patrol (WSP) and the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, Disability Determination Services (DDS). The case was prosecuted by 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.

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