Fairy Tale

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Fairy tales provide endless opportunities for children to use their imagination. They can also be regarded as a fabricated story, one that is intended to deceive. We’re talking about the second type today as we learn more about a woman from North Lauderdale, Florida who wove quite a fairy tale for the judge about why stealing government benefits from her deceased grandparents was not considered to be Social Security fraud.

Today’s Floridian fraudster convinced her grandparents to deposit their Social Security checks into a joint bank account that she controlled. She completed paperwork for the Social Security Administration (SSA) so she could be declared their official representative, managing their monthly payments because they were elderly and sick. Just a few side notes here – her grandfather was 87 when he died in 2006 and her grandmother was 90 when she died in 2009. They both died in Haiti after moving back to the Port-au-Prince area in 1987. (Do the math and that means grandpa and grandma were back in Haiti for around two decades, all the while, their granddaughter continued to collect their Social Security benefits.)

When investigators questioned her, the former home healthcare aide claimed she knew her grandparents were dead but thought the government funds were a “survivor benefit.” (Supposedly, she offered to repay the money.) In a total switcheroo, she testified in court that she did not know that her grandparents were dead and even hinted that they might still be alive in Haiti. (Again, do the math and that would make her grandparents 99-years-old. While not totally impossible, it’s highly unlikely. Especially, because investigators were able to dig up their death certificates.) The deceptive granddaughter tried to spin a tale that another family member was responsible for the crime, but evidence proved she was the only person with access to her grandparents’ money.

So, over 13 years, how did she use the $160,000 she stole from the SSA? She continued to work; however, she used the influx of government funds to make some car payments on her luxury BMW, pay her mortgage, buy airline tickets and cover other daily expenses. (She bought a $100,000 car during a time when her regular earnings were $20,000.) At the same time, she was telling the SSA she was using the money to pay for food and shelters and other legitimate expenses her grandparents had.

Because the judge felt that the woman was telling “fairy tales,” he sentenced the 49-year-old to three years and five months in federal prison for committing Social Security fraud. Because of the statute of limitations, she is only required to pay back $64,920. (In this case, that just doesn’t seem fair, especially to the taxpayers who funded her personal greed.)

Unfortunately, the fairy tale that this fraudster from Florida spun does not have a happy ending. (Unless you’re looking at it from the government’s perspective.) Let’s hope she gets the point that the SSA is not a piggy bank for unscrupulous individuals who need to pay for their BMW’s.

Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on an article entitled, Woman who stole her dead grandparents’ Social Security benefits sentenced to prison,” published by the Sun Sentinel on April 5, 2018.

For several years after Myriam Etienne’s grandparents died, she made more than $160,000 in easy money from her dead relatives by illegally continuing to accept their Social Security benefits. Etienne was sentenced Thursday to three years and five months in federal prison.

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Larry Benson, Senior Director of Strategic Alliances, LexisNexis Risk Solutions - Government

Larry Benson is responsible for developing strategic partnerships and solutions for the government vertical. His expertise focuses on how government programs are defrauded by criminal groups, and the approaches necessary to prevent them from succeeding.

Mr. Benson has 30 years of experience in sales and business development. Before joining LexisNexis® Risk Solutions, he spent 12 years founding and managing two software technology startups. During the 1990s he spent 10 years as a Regional Director helping to grow a New England-based technology company from 300 employees to 7,000. He started his career with Martin Marietta Aerospace working on laser guided weapons and day/night vision systems.

A sought-after speaker and accomplished writer, Mr. Benson is the principal author of “Fraud of the Day,” a website dedicated to educating government officials about how criminals are defrauding government programs. He has co-authored WTF? Where’s the Fraud? How to Unmask and Stop Identity Fraud’s Drain on Our Government, and Data Personified, How Fraud is Changing the Meaning of Identity.

Benson holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Albright College, and earned two graduate degrees – a Master of Business Administration from Florida Institute of Technology, and a Master of Science in Engineering from Lehigh University.