From the U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Washington:
A former engineer employed with technology manufacturing companies in the Vancouver, Washington area was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to 27 months in prison for his nearly twenty-year scheme to collect disability benefits under his own identity while working under a false identity, announced U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran. STEVEN LYNN ROSS, 67, stole $368,458 in government benefits between 2001 and 2017. ROSS possessed identity documents he had fraudulently obtained in the names of children who died in the 1950s and 1960s. ROSS used the stolen identities to obtain identity documents in the false names as early as 1987. At today’s sentencing hearing U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle imposed an additional $20,000 fine, saying, “Our government depends on the honesty of its citizens to work…. The victims here are future generations… his daughters and grandchildren will be paying.”
“By taking this money, the defendant stole, month after month and year after year, from government programs that are stretched to the limit, where every dollar is vital to provide for the community’s most vulnerable,” said U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran. “These crimes have a corrosive effect on the public’s faith that benefit programs can work as intended. When people lie to obtain benefits, agencies must use their limited resources to detect and investigate fraud, instead of helping the truly deserving.
According to records filed in the case, in 1987 ROSS assumed the identities of at least two deceased children in order to apply for Social Security numbers in their names. One of the children had died in a car accident as a toddler, the other died in a plane crash in 1968 at age thirteen. ROSS used these identities in various ways, obtaining drivers licenses, bank accounts and passports in different names. In 2001, ROSS began collecting Social Security Disability payments in his true name, saying he was unable to work due to physical ailments. In fact, at the same time that he was collecting disability payments, ROSS continued to work under one of the identities he had stolen. In this way, ROSS collected more than $360,000 in disability payments even though he was able to work and therefore not disabled under program rules. ROSS even used his false identities as “references” vouching for his disabled status in his submissions to the Social Security Administration.
The Washington State Department of Licensing began investigating when facial recognition software flagged that ROSS’s image appeared in more than one driver’s license photo. The case was turned over to the Social Security Office of Inspector General (SSA-OIG) and U.S. State Department Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). The DSS determined that ROSS had obtained passports in his own name as well as the names of three deceased children, and that all four passports contain ROSS’ picture. Between 1998 and 2011, ROSS traveled out of the country 22 times with one of the stolen identities, even as he also traveled internationally using his own name and passport as well.
ROSS pleaded guilty on January 15, 2019 to theft of public funds and aggravated identity theft. He is in the process of paying restitution of $368,458 and now will be responsible for the $20,000 fine as well. Judge Settle imposed three years of supervised release.
The case was investigated by the Social Security Office of Inspector General (SSA-OIG), the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), and the Washington State Department of Licensing License Integrity Unit (DOL/LIU).
The case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Benjamin Diggs. Mr. Diggs is an attorney with the Social Security Administration specially designated to prosecute benefit fraud cases in federal court.