Customer Disservice

Social Security cards with cash and benefit amount numbers

A judge recently sentenced a California-based Social Security Administration employee to 15 months in federal prison for committing Social Security fraud. She must also repay $176,000 – the amount she stole from 10 Social Security beneficiaries. (The very people she was paid to help).

It’s no secret that Social Security benefits are hard to come by and don’t go very far. Created after the Great Depression to protect society’s most vulnerable from poverty, the monthly federal benefits for elderly and disabled people mostly make ends meet, if that. (Disabled people often have to apply for the government benefits multiple times before they are approved. For those who are not yet eligible, there is always the question of whether the program will remain solvent. )

With that in mind, it’s no wonder the penalty is stiff for those who defraud the Social Security program. Even more so when it’s an inside job.

The 36-year-old Garden Grove woman pleaded guilty in September to one charge of wire fraud related to the theft. The woman was hired by the agency in 2007 and worked as a lead customer service representative in SSA’s Fountain Valley office. She was responsible for direct public service, including screening for eligibility, explaining benefits, and resolving problems. But from April 2017 to August 2019, investigators said, the worker accessed the victims’ online records and fraudulently changed the routing numbers of their bank accounts to hers, causing their direct deposits to go into her account. (Not only was it egregious, but also not very smart.)

Eight of the 10 victims are young adults with severe intellectual disabilities living in adult care facilities; the ninth is an older disabled adult; and the 10th receives retirement benefits, prosecutors said. (In other words, the victims were people who are not otherwise able to earn a living.)

In a sentencing memo, the U.S. Attorney said the woman showed “an utter disregard for the responsibility of her position, for the hardworking Americans who pay their fair share to sustain the SSA program benefits, and for the most vulnerable members of society.”

Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from the article, “Social Security Fraud: Garden Grove Woman Gets 15 Months Prison,” published in Los Alamitos-Seal Beach, CA, Patch.

GARDEN GROVE, CA — An Orange County woman who stole about $176,000 in Social Security benefits designated for elderly and disabled people while employed at a Social Security Administration field office was sentenced Monday to 15 months in federal prison.

Rowena Isabel Lokeni, 36, of Garden Grove, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge John F. Walter to pay $176,015 in restitution to the SSA, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

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Larry Benson
Larry Benson is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances for Revenue Discovery and Recovery at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. In this role, Benson is responsible for developing partnerships for the tax and revenue and child support enforcement verticals. He focuses on embedded companies that have a need for third-party analytics to enhance their current offerings.