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Not Your Brother's Social Security

Senior Director of Strategic Alliances
LexisNexis Risk Solutions - Government

Chris Harvey Sayler, 74, of Olalla, Wash., was sentenced to 25 months in prison for wire fraud and aggravated identify theft for a 20-year-long fraud scheme that cost the Social Security Administration around $500,000. The victim was none other than his missing brother, Jarvis L. Sayler.

According to relatives, Jarvis traveled from his home in Missouri to the Vancouver, Wash., area in 1988. He planned to visit his brother, Chris, then intended to return to Missouri to build a home on property there. Sometime during the visit, the two brothers had an argument and Jarvis moved out of his brother’s home. Jarvis wrote a few letters to relatives in Missouri between June and September 1988, but that was the last anyone heard from him.

It’s important to note that Jarvis Sayler, who was born with partial eyesight, had received Social Security disability benefits since 1977. In March of 1989 he was officially reported missing by his third brother. (I think I can see where this is going.)

In 2013, a person claiming to be Jarvis attempted to renew a Washington State ID, but the renwal was denied because facial recogingition software detected an error. The person in the ID photo was Chris Sayler. (The software wasn’t seeing double, but a fraudster playing two roles, a missing brother and a thief.)

Years later Chris Sayler went to the Department of Licensing Office to renew a license in his own name, he claimed that he and Jarvis were twins. (That was the justification for the facial recognition issue.) The clerk pointed out that the brothers’ birthdates were four year apart. Chris Sayler stated, “it’s a rare twin situation.” (Rare indeed.) During the investigation it was revealed that the two brothers were not biologically related. (Well, this certainly is interesting, isn’t it?)

In 2019, the Social Security Office of Inspector General (SSA-OIG) took a deeper look into the suspicious circumstances. The investigation revealed that Chris Sayler’s photo appeared on Jarvis Sayler’s identification card. Also, addresses and other identifying documents related to Jarvis had been associated with Chris since 1998. That’s when the missing brother’s Social Security benefits began to be directed into a bank account opened with an address in Vancouver. When Chris moved to Olalla, the address was updated too. (There was a paper trail of ATM withdrawals and debit card records from retailers. The debit card used was associated with Jarvis’ account.)

The judge had mercy on Chris Sayler due to his age, health, and military service. Otherwise he would have probably had a harsher sentence. Misusing Social Security benefits that are intended for someone else is a Federal crime. There’s no mystery as to why it is a crime, but what’s more puzzling here is what happened to poor Jarvis?

Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from a Department of Justice press release, “Kitsap County, Washington man sentenced to prison for 20-year theft of brother’s Social Security benefits,” dated September 16, 2021.

Tacoma – An Olalla, Washington man was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to 25 months in prison for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft for his decades-long theft of his missing brother’s identity and benefits, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman.  Chris Harvey Sayler, 74, began fraudulently collecting his missing brother’s Social Security Disability benefits since at least 1998.  Over the last twenty years, those benefits total more than $388,000.  At the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Bryan said, “This is a sad case for all concerned – including the public…. It’s a crime against all the citizen taxpayers in the country.”  Judge Bryan noted that but for Sayler’s age, health and military service, he would have faced a much longer sentence.

“Over the course of this investigation, the defendant has made conflicting statements about when he last saw his brother – who was reported missing in 1989,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Gorman.  “Our hope was that the investigation could shed light on what happened to Jarvis Sayler.  While that has not happened, we are able to hold his brother accountable for stealing benefits from government programs that are designed to help the most needy in our community.”

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