From the U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California:
SAN DIEGO – This morning, Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani pleaded guilty in federal court to Theft of Public Money, admitting that he received over $100,000 in government benefits by concealing foreign travel and residency between July 2015 and December 2018.
During a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen S. Crawford, Nuristani admitted that he applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) from the Social Security Administration in July 2015. Nuristani acknowledged that he knew an SSI recipient must reside within the United States, and that he was required to report any travel outside of the United States lasting more than thirty days. Nuristani admitted to concealing and repeatedly lying to the Social Security Administration about his foreign travel and residency, and to receiving $27,492.44 in SSI payments and to causing a loss of $73,090.34 to the State of California for health care payments and services as a result of his fraud.
Nuristani, 71, is a former Fulbright Scholar and has been a prominent politician in Afghanistan for many decades. He has previously served as the governor of Herat province, and was the chairman of the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan during their last presidential election. In September 2018, President Ashraf Ghani appointed Nuristani to the Meshrano Jirga, the upper body of parliament in Afghanistan. Nuristani served as both the head of Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission and as an Afghan senator even as he received SSI at his claimed address in El Cajon, California.
This case was brought through the Travel and Residency Enforcement Co-Op (TREC), a pilot project of the Social Security Administration, its Office of Inspector General, the California Department of Health Care Services Investigations Division, and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California. TREC is designed to detect and prevent misuse of the SSI program, a needs-based program administered by the Social Security Administration and designed to provide a floor of income for the aged, blind or disabled who have little or no income and resources. An individual approved to receive SSI automatically becomes eligible to receive Medi-Cal health benefits from the State of California. Since its formation in 2017, TREC has resulted in 25 federal convictions of individuals who fraudulently concealed foreign travel, foreign residency, and foreign financial resources from the Social Security Administration. To date, TREC has obtained over $2 million in court-ordered restitution to state and federal agencies, and has resulted in a savings of millions more.
Criminal investigators with the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) also assisted with this investigation.
“I am proud of the work of this office, especially AUSA Jeffrey Hill, and our law enforcement partners for stopping this decades-long fraud, and ending the exploitation of government programs intended to help our country’s most vulnerable,” said United States Attorney Robert S. Brewer, Jr. “Those who abuse the trust of the taxpayer will be brought to justice.”
“Supplemental Security Income provides a lifeline for the elderly and disabled residing within the United States. The Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General and its TREC partners vigorously investigate allegations of foreign travel and residency fraud, and prosecute those who steal from the American taxpayer. My office is pleased to see charges brought in this case, and appreciate that the U.S. Attorney’s Office shares our determination to protect the integrity of this vital income security program,” said Robb Stickley, Special Agent in Charge of the Inspector General’s Office of Investigations in San Francisco.
As a part of his plea agreement, Nuristani has agreed to make full restitution to the Social Security Administration and the California Department of Health Care Services. He faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000 at his sentencing before the Hon. Cynthia A. Bashant on March 9, 2020.