Golfing, Fishing and Defrauding

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37175318 - medical team examining patient in hospital.

Every once in a while life throws us a curve ball – some people lose jobs, loved ones or their homes. For others, that unexpected life event is the onset of a disability that impairs the individual from working. In those circumstances, the Social Security Administration (SSA) is there to help by providing eligible recipients who are unable to work, due to their disability, with benefits. Of course, as a general rule, if the individual is ever able to work, he or she is no longer eligible to receive benefits and must stop claiming them. Unfortunately, there are some – like the example in today’s fraud from an SSA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) posting – who cheat the system and continue to receive benefits long after they return to work.

The posting describes the case of an Oregon man who was burned over 70 percent of his body in a plane crash in 1988. He was unable to work and began receiving SSA disability benefits. In time, his circumstances changed, and he was able to work. According to the OIG, he ”worked long hours, played golf, fished, hunted (quite the outdoorsman) and once boasted of a 6,488 mile cross-country trip by motorcycle.” (Which SSA application gets you this benefit? I need a few of them.) And, he did pretty well. In documents relating to a 1998 home refinance application, he indicated that he earned $12,300 per month in his job as a real estate agent. Oh yeah…he also renewed his pilot’s license.

His eligibility for disability benefits was reviewed in 2010. Did he take this as an opportunity to ‘fess up? No. He didn’t report any income from his real estate gig or an engagement as a ranch property manager. He also didn’t bother to report the income from the ranch on his federal tax returns.

He was recently sentenced for his crimes. Prosecutors sought jail time and his attorney asked for probation. The judge ”split the difference” and sentenced him to six months of home confinement, five years of probation and 100 hours of community service. He was ordered to repay $176,607 in restitution for the fraudulent benefits he received. (That’s it? Wow, I thought sentencing was supposed to deter crime.)

The fact that someone defrauded the program is unfortunate, and obviously something the agency is working to prevent. What makes this fraud all the more reprehensible is that this defendant knew the value of the benefit from first-hand experience. He had once been a legitimate recipient of the program – he knew what it was like to be unable to work because of a disability and how much the money helped. Then, he proceeded to rip off the program for 17 years. For the taxpayers’ sake, let’s hope he does the right thing and complies with the judge’s order to pay back the money.

Source: Today’s ”Fraud of the Day” is based on an article entitled, ”Central Oregon Real Estate Man Punished for Cheating Social Security of Disability Pay,” published by Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General on April 3, 2012.

For 17 years, the Social Security Administration sent disability payments to a Bend real estate man who worked long hours, played golf, fished, hunted and once boasted of a 6,488-mile cross-country trip by motorcycle.

On Tuesday, 55-year-old Richard Todd Rawlins stood before a federal judge in Portland to be punished for theft of government funds.

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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.