Denver Man Sentenced to 15 Months in Prison for $465,000 Deceased Payee Fraud

Date: 
Friday, September 4, 2015
Office Affiliation: 

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

DENVER – Ernie Atchley, a 73-year-old Denver resident, was sentenced to serve 15 months in federal prison, followed by 3 years of supervised release after previously pleading guilty to failure to disclose an event affecting entitlement to Social Security benefits, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General announced.  The defendant was also ordered to pay restitution of $465,349 to the Social Security Administration as well as two state government entities in California.  The sentence was pronounced by U.S. District Court Judge Wiley Y. Daniel.

Atchley was indicted by a federal grand jury on October 8, 2014.  He pled guilty before Judge Daniel on March 17, 2015 and was sentenced on August 19, 2015.

According to court documents, including the stipulated facts contained in the defendant’s plea agreement, Atchley’s mother was receiving Social Security survivor’s benefits when she died on July 21, 2001. Although her entitlement to these benefits terminated at her death, monthly benefit payments continued to be made into her bank account through August 2012.  At the time she died, the defendant’s mother was receiving $897 per month in Social Security benefits. By 2012, that had increased to $1,277 a month. By the time the payments terminated, $151,526 worth of benefits had been overpaid into the account.

Atchley’s mother had also been receiving retirement benefits from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the Los Angeles County Employees’ Retirement Association (LACERA). These payments, too, erroneously continued after her death. LACERA payments continued through March 2013. CalPERS payments continued through June 2013.  At the time of death, LACERA was paying $706 per month and CalPERS was paying $1,126 a month. Those amounts increased over time. LACERA’s final payment (in March 2013) was $1,017. CalPERS’ final payment (in June 2013) was $1,503. Altogether, LACERA paid $114,492 after death. CalPERS paid $203,178 after death.

Prior to his mother’s death, the defendant was appointed in state court to be her conservator.  All of the payments Atchley received after his mother’s death went into a bank account held by him jointly with a relative whom had no knowledge of the fraud.

Shortly after his mother's death, Atchley began illegally taking money from the account. He would write checks for “medical supplies” or “medical services” to a relative with whom he held a joint account. Atchley would then forge that relative’s endorsement on the check and deposit it into that joint account. From there, he would use the funds to pay various bills—primarily credit cards, but also phone and energy bills.

“Concealing the death of a loved one in order to steal their Social Security benefits is reprehensible,” said Wilbert Craig, Special Agent in Charge of the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General, Denver Field Division.  “The Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General, in partnership the United States Attorney’s Office, will continue to vigorously respond to allegations of fraud against the SSA and its beneficiaries.”

This case was investigated by the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General.  The defendant was prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Burrows.