"Operation Walking Dead": 18 Charged with Committing $1 Million in Social Security Fraud

Date: 
Thursday, September 4, 2014
Office Affiliation: 

From the U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Florida:

Tampa, Florida – United States Attorney A. Lee Bentley, III announces the filing of federal charges against individuals in 18 separate cases. These individuals have been charged with stealing more than $1 million in federal benefits to which they were not entitled. The penalty for stealing federal benefits or making false statements is up to 10 years in federal prison per count. These Middle District of Florida cases arose as the result of Operation Walking Dead, an operation initiated and overseen by the Social Security Administration - Office of Inspector General with assistance from multiple other federal and local law enforcement agencies.

These cases were investigated by the Social Security Administration – Office of Inspector General, the United States Marshals Service, the United States Secret Service, the Department of Health and Human Services - Office of Inspector General, the Department of Treasury - Office of Inspector General, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the Tampa Police Department, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, and the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office. These cases will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys throughout the Middle District of Florida, including Tama Koss Caldarone, Jeffrey Michelland, Joseph Schuster, David Haas, James Mandolfo, Robert Bodnar, Shawn Napier, Embry Kidd, David Haas, Andrew Searle, Bruce Ambrose, Amanda Kaiser, Adam Saltzman, and Stacie Harris.

An information and an indictment are merely formal charges that a defendant has committed a violation of federal criminal laws, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.

Operation Walking Dead Case Summaries

Donna Bennett (68, Dunedin) has been charged with theft of government funds. According to her plea agreement, from June 3, 2009 through November 1, 2013, Bennett fraudulently collected approximately $60,581.00 of her mother’s Social Security benefits after her mother’s death on May 19, 2009. At the time of her mother’s death, Bennett was an authorized user on her mother’s account, which received Social Security benefit payments. Bennett transferred the Social Security funds from her mother’s account to another account that Bennett controlled.

James Birney (47, Oldsmar) has been charged with theft of government funds. According to his plea agreement, from March 2008 through February 2014, Birney fraudulently collected approximately $95,556 of his mother’s Social Security benefits after her death in February 2008. At the time of his mother’s death, Birney had an ATM card for the account where his mother’s Social Security benefit payments were direct-deposited. After his mother’s death, Birney made ATM withdrawals of his mother’s Social Security benefits from his mother’s bank account.

Linda Byerly (37, Tampa) has been charged with theft of government funds. According to her plea agreement, beginning in June 2012, and continuing through January 2013, Byerly defrauded the Social Security Administration of $9,749.73. Byerly was a recipient of Social Security benefits. The government’s investigation revealed that Byerly reported to the Social Security office that she had not received her monthly payment. She then received a paper replacement check. Byerly took the account number from the bottom of the Social Security replacement check and placed that account number on fraudulent checks, and then wrote checks for her personal expenses against the Social Security account. The fraudulent checks totaled approximately $8,574.73. A further investigation by the Social Security Administration revealed that Byerly lied about her living arrangements, thereby resulting in the payment of $1,175.00 in Social Security benefits payments to which she was not entitled.

Mary Francenia Campbell (58, Tampa) has been charged with theft of government funds. According to the indictment, from May 2007 through March 2014, Campbell fraudulently collected approximately $81,399.40 of her mother’s Social Security benefits after her mother’s death in April 2007. The Social Security Administration has recovered $19,064.33 of the funds fraudulently paid to Campbell.

Sewan Chukes, aka Sewan Barner, (41, Sylacauga, Alabama) has been charged with theft of government funds. According to the indictment, Chukes received $34,700 in Supplemental Security Income benefits for her minor child when she was not entitled to the benefits because she was no longer had custody of her child and did not provide for her care and support.

Etheal Clark (46, Naples) has been charged with one count of theft of government property, and two counts of making false statements. According to the indictment, Clark
converted to her own use Social Security benefits that were issued to another individual, after that individual passed away on April 25, 2003. The Social Security Administration has determined the loss in this matter to be approximately $124,529.40.

Lonnie Leroy Hicks (68, Estero) has been charged with theft of government funds. According to the indictment, Hicks applied for and received Social Security Administration benefits for his son while his son resided in Mexico with his mother. Hicks unlawfully collected Social Security disability payments for his son as a representative payee and concealed the fact that his son was not living with him. As a result of the fraud, Hicks secured $76,204.00 in SSA payments to which he was not entitled.

Lisa Iaeger, aka Lisa Iaeger-Ewing (37, Live Oak) has been charged with theft of government funds. According to the indictment, Iaeger received $26,050 in Supplemental Security Income benefits for her minor child when she was not entitled to the benefits because she no longer had custody of her child and did not provide for his care and support.

Frances S. Kitsock-Harbot (61, Altamonte Springs) has been charged with theft of government funds. According to the indictment, Kitsock-Harbot collected $91,051 in Social Security Retirement Insurance Benefits which she was not entitled to receive.

Mona Lesa Mackey (57, Bonita Springs) has been charged with theft of government funds. Mackey concealed the fact that her husband died and continued receiving his Social Security Administration (SSA) disability benefits after his death. As a result of the fraud, Mackey secured $139,919.47 in SSA payments to which she was not entitled.

Bilma Ruth Gonzalez Maldonado, a/k/a Bilma Ruth Fontanez, (51, Orlando) has been charged with theft of government funds. According to the indictment, beginning in March 2001 and continuing until August 2012, Gonzalez Maldonado stole $51,809 from the United States government by claiming benefits that did not belong to her.

Allena McHaffie (57, Tavares) has been charged with theft of government funds. According to the indictment, from August 2004 to January 2014, McHaffie fraudulently received $103,411 in Social Security benefits that were intended for her deceased mother.

Oveda Miller (51, Mt. Dora) has been charged with theft of government funds. According to the indictment, Miller collected more than $86,880 in benefits to which she was not entitled.

Irene Roberts (69, Lakeland) has been charged with theft of government funds and making false statements. According to the indictment, from January 2000 through December 2013, Roberts fraudulently collected approximately $75,986.00 of Supplemental Security Income benefits by providing false information about her marital status, living arrangements, and household income to the Social Security Administration.

Ruby Smith (61, Tampa) has been charged with theft of government funds. According to the indictment, from June 2004 and continuing through September 2012, Smith fraudulently collected approximately $37,211.46 of Supplemental Security Income benefits by providing false information about her marital status, living arrangements, and household income to the Social Security Administration.

Geneva Swain (66, Orlando) has been charged with theft of government funds. According to the indictment, Swain received benefits from the Social Security Administration to which she was not entitled.

Amanda Wheeler, aka Amanda Smyth (30, Orlando) has been charged with theft of government funds. According to the indictment, Wheeler received $51,564.00 in Social Security Widow’s Benefits in the name of a beneficiary who was deceased. Because the beneficiary was deceased, Wheeler was not entitled to the benefits.

Robin K. Wisniewski, a/k/a "Robin Sabatine," (53, Fort Myers) has been charged with theft of government funds and concealment of an event that would have affected the ability to obtain Supplemental Security income. According to the superseding indictment, Wisniewski continued receiving Social Security Administration Retirement and Survivors Insurance benefits payments paid to her mother, after her mother’s death. Wisniewski secured at least $25,793.41 in SSA payments to which she was not entitled. Wisniewski also was a Supplemental Security Income recipient. Wisniewski did not disclose the income she received from her deceased mothers’ widow benefit, and also failed to inform SSA that she was employed and received wage income from a CPA in Fort Myers. The total loss amount in this case is $38,599.41.