A Broward County woman who fraudulently obtained U.S. citizenship with an illegal marriage, then milked the system for tens of thousands of dollars in government benefits, has been sentenced to more than a year in prison.
Federal prosecutors said Indra Seepaul Sankar, 42, was a classic example of how dishonest people drain government funds.
Investigators unraveled her fraud, which they said included forging an annulment document to make it seem as if she could legally marry her second husband, a U.S. citizen.
During a sentencing hearing that went on for two days last week, prosecutors revealed that she fraudulently received Social Security survivor benefits for years after her husband died. She also received a $1.5 million settlement from a New York gym where he died.
Not content with illegally getting close to $80,000 in benefits as the widow of a U.S. citizen she married while still legally married to her first husband in Trinidad, investigators testified that — even after she pleaded guilty to unlawfully procuring citizenship — she continued to steal by collecting U.S. Social Security benefits and food stamps on behalf of her ill mother, a U.S. citizen who had returned home to Trinidad and was no longer entitled to the money.
U.S. District Judge James Cohn revoked Sankar's citizenship, ordered her to repay $79,425 to the government and sentenced her to a year and one month in prison before likely deportation. Sankar, a native of Trinidad who lived in Sunrise, Coral Springs and previously in New York City, asked the judge for house arrest.
"I'm sorry that I'm here today, I'm sorry about this whole incident," Sankar told the judge on Tuesday.
Her attorney Michael Entin said there was "nothing sinister" about Sankar's crime. He said she came to New York in 1996 on her honeymoon with her first husband, a Trinidadian police officer, and stayed on with family because he was physically abusive.
Sankar said her first husband had the marriage annulled in Trinidad, but prosecutors said that was untrue at the time and she filed a forged annulment record in court in New York.
When her second husband died after drinking an energy drink at a gym, she filed a lawsuit against the business, seeking damages for herself and their now-13-year-old daughter. She received a $1.5 million settlement some years ago, much of which prosecutors said she "flitted away."
Prosecutor Harry Wallace said Sankar was "driven by greed" and intentionally deceived government officials.
"It's not a case where she made a bunch of dumb mistakes," he said.
Sankar was on track to get a lighter punishment when first scheduled for sentencing last year, but investigators discovered she was using her mother's benefits and prosecutors sought harsher punishment because she had not given up her criminal ways. Among the evidence they gathered was video of Sankar using her mother's food stamps to buy food for herself at local stores and photos from ATMs showing her withdrawing her mother's benefits while the older woman was living abroad.
Sankar seemed resigned as she was immediately taken into custody, but her mother, sister and brother — who prosecutors said lied in court testimony on her behalf — cried, yelled abuse and hissed at investigators and the prosecutor who uncovered the fraud as they left the courtroom. They also shouted at the judge that the sentence was "so unfair" before they were removed by a court security officer.