Virginia Woman Sentenced to Prison for Cashing Dead Mother's Social Security Checks

Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Office Affiliation: 


In September, a government official knocked on the door of a Norfolk home and asked for Marie Times.

Her daughter said Times was out visiting friends.

If so, they were not friends of this world. Times died in 1996.

On Tuesday, a federal judge sentenced Times' daughter, Annie Marie Washington, to serve a year and four months in prison for spending her mother's Social Security earnings for 14 years.

Washington, 58, had power of attorney and never closed her mother's bank account, where the benefits were sent, according to a statement of facts. She told investigators she used the money to "pay household expenses," according to the document.

The government put the loss at almost $204,000.

When Washington gets out of prison, she must pay $75 a month toward restitution, the judge said during her sentencing.

With cost-of-living increases that her dead mother received, Washington took $900 to $1,300 monthly, according to court records.

Before sentencing the woman, U.S. District Judge Mark S. Davis said it was at least his third such case in two years. He asked the assistant U.S. attorney whether there was a simple check on beneficiaries that could be done to save the government money.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa E. O'Boyle said she did not know.

A special agent told the judge that Washington got caught because of an investigative project that is checking up on any beneficiary over age 100.

Washington's mother would have been 104 when investigators came looking for her.

According to the Social Security Administration's website, it is the "legal responsibility" of family members to report deaths, though funeral directors or states sometimes do. Any benefits paid after a person dies must be returned, the website says.

When someone decides to cash in on those payments, the Office of the Inspector General gets involved, according to Jonathan Lasher, an agency spokesman.

In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, investigators closed about 430 cases with 156 convictions and the recovery of about $12.5 million in losses, Lasher said in an email.

He said the majority are cases of a family member who has "access to the deceased's bank account."

But some people go to bizarre lengths to tap into the benefits.

In one case, Lasher wrote, someone impersonated the deceased, and in another, someone brought the body along to a check cashing facility, he wrote.

There also have been cases in which people bury a family member themselves to conceal the death, he said.

Most of the time, the schemes fail "by virtue of the death being reported by another source," he said.

Washington pleaded guilty to the crime in May. According to a position on sentencing submitted by her attorney, she had worked as a certified nurse's aid for more than 30 years and had worked full time for St. Mary's Home for Disabled Children since 1992.

She had no record, and her attorney asked for probation or home detention with electronic monitoring.

But the judge pointed out that each month over those 14 years, Washington had made a decision to commit criminal activity.