As the large, red door to the Lexington, Kentucky storage unit slowly raised open, OIG special agents and Lexington police officers braced for what they suspected was inside.
First, they saw a tan Lincoln Town Car, along with some household items—chairs, dresser drawers, and cardboard boxes stuffed with newspapers and magazines.
But way in the back, wrapped in a tarp and covered with cat litter, blankets, and a carpet, they found human remains—hidden there for more than 20 years.
After two years of investigating, OIG Special Agent Bianca Mendez had finally found Social Security retirement beneficiary Luther Broughton. She simultaneously solved a missing-person cold case and a Social Security deceased payee fraud investigation.
The discovery itself was striking, but it was Mendez’s investigative instincts and actions that ultimately cracked the case.
In 2011, the local Social Security office in Odessa, Texas began trying to contact Mr. Broughton—who, if still alive, would have been 103 years old. After they couldn’t reach him, an SSA employee referred the case to our office for investigation. When we initially contacted Broughton’s daughter, Judith, and ex-wife, Mary, they said Luther was away traveling.
Soon after, the SSA employee received a phone call from “Luther Broughton,” but the employee was skeptical: the caller spoke with a high-pitched voice, and didn’t sound like an older man. The employee stopped Broughton’s Social Security payments and reported the strange call to our office. That’s when Special Agent Mendez comes into the story.
Last year, Mendez again contacted Broughton’s daughter, Judith, and she again reported that her father was unavailable because he was traveling. But when Mendez conducted a records search, she couldn’t locate a passport on file for Broughton or any recent travel-related purchases.
In fact, though Mendez found divorce records and earnings records for Broughton from 1987 and 1988, she couldn’t find any records linked to him after that time. And when Mendez contacted Broughton’s sister, she said family members had not heard from or seen Broughton in more than 20 years.
As Mendez dug deeper, her suspicions intensified. She returned her focus to Broughton’s daughter, Judith.
Records searches revealed Judith in recent years made payments on storage units in Missouri and Kentucky. While the Missouri unit was auctioned in 2012—shortly after SSA stopped Luther Broughton’s payments—Judith still held the unit in Kentucky.
According to the Kentucky storage-facility manager, Judith and her father’s name were both on the rental contract, yet, over the years, the manager only saw Judith at the unit. He also said that Judith asked the manager to not send her bills for the unit; Judith had reportedly paid, on time, every month since she first leased it in June 1990.
With this information, Mendez contacted law enforcement in Lexington, Kentucky and coordinated efforts to have four cadaver dogs examine the storage unit, this past January.
When all of the dogs alerted, Lexington Police had probable cause to execute a search warrant on the unit—and inside, the search for Luther Broughton finally ended. In April, a DNA test positively identified Luther’s remains.
Soon after, Judith Broughton, 49, was arrested and charged with stealing her father’s Social Security benefits. She pleaded guilty in July to stealing more than $245,000 from the time of her father’s death in June 1990 to August 2011. Judith admitted forging her father’s name on correspondence with SSA to keep the payments coming in, as well as keeping her father’s body in the Lexington storage unit to conceal his death.
Last month, a judge sentenced Broughton to the maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison and ordered her to repay the full amount she stole from SSA. She faces additional charges in Kentucky related to the concealment of her father’s body.
Special Agent Mendez took a routine referral from SSA and turned it into a major deceased payee case, bringing a criminal to justice and providing closure for a man’s family. She thanked the following agencies for their assistance with the investigation:
- OIG special agents in Lexington, Kentucky
- Lexington Police Department, including the cadaver dogs and their handlers
- U.S. Marshals Service
- Brewster County, Texas Sheriff’s Office
- U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas
- District Attorney’s Office in Lexington, Kentucky
- University of North Texas Health Science Center
The case, though, isn’t completely closed.
Judith’s mother, Mary, hasn’t been seen or heard from for several months. SSA suspended her Social Security benefits, and Mendez searched for her with Texas authorities. Unfortunately, earlier this month on Judith’s property in southwest Texas, authorities located an unidentified body believed to belong to Mary Broughton. The investigation is ongoing.