Clouded Judgement


Sometimes emotions can get the best of us, especially when death is involved. Grief can be a factor in bad decision-making, but the defense attorney for a woman who collected the Social Security benefits of her deceased mother for 15 years after her death claims his client’s judgment was clouded by sorrow.

The woman claimed she notified the Social Security Administration of her mother’s death, but the benefit checks continued to arrive – for 15 more years. She didn’t follow up. (Perhaps she reasoned that she had done her civic duty and it wasn’t her fault that the agency made an error. That reasoning erroneously sides with the idea that finders are keepers and losers are weepers.) In all, she collected $308,000 in Social Security benefits she did not deserve.

In court, the emotional daughter expressed to the judge that she was deeply sorry and wished she could go back and make the right choice. (The judge didn’t buy in to her reasoning and sentenced her to a year and a day in prison, which is a much harsher sentence for that crime than normal.) Since the woman presented no evidence that she actually needed the cash to survive, her condo is now up for sale at $389,000 to help pay restitution.

If this woman thought she was sorrowful before, she is definitely sorry now. There was nothing cloudy about the judge’s decision. It’s as clear as can be – fraudsters must pay for their crimes.

Source: Today’s ”Fraud of the Day” is based on an article entitled, ”Troy woman gets rare prison term for Social Security fraud,” published by the Detroit Free Press on October 13, 2016.

A woman who illegally collected $308,000 in Social Security benefits after her mother’s death was sentenced Thursday to a year and a day in prison, a rare punishment for that crime in southeastern Michigan.

U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith found the case ”deeply troubling,” noting that Sandra Sarnowski’s mother died in 1998 yet she continued to spend monthly Social Security payments into 2013.

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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.