A Seattle woman who illegally collected her dead father’s Social Security benefits for more than 19 years after his death, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to 18 months in prison and three years of supervised release for theft of government funds, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan.
Patty Buchanan, 57, was prosecuted as part of an initiative with the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General to combat benefit fraud. Buchanan forged a power of attorney, submitted false documentation to the Social Security Administration and even had someone impersonate her father on the telephone to continue collecting his benefits after his death in 1993. At sentencing Chief U.S. District Judge Marsha J. Pechman ordered her to pay $239,083 in restitution.
“Fraud against Social Security harms the poor, the disabled, and those most in need, including the elderly,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. “These prosecutions are aimed at preserving the integrity of the Social Security safety net so that it remains available for vulnerable people who need these benefits to survive.”
Buchanan is one of the largest Social Security benefit fraud cases prosecuted as part of the initiative in the Western District of Washington. Buchanan’s father died in May 1993, but she continued to receive and cash his benefit checks using a check cashing business. She told the outlet her father was infirm and homebound and that she had power of attorney. Every month for 19 years she cashed the checks – in all, 235 checks for a total of $239,083. When one of the tellers at the check cashing business became suspicious, Buchanan forged a fraudulent power of attorney document. When staffers at the outlet called to try to speak with Buchanan’s father, Buchanan had a male friend pretend to be her father. Ultimately, an anonymous tip to Social Security ended the fraud in December 2012. In addition, between March 2003 and November 2012, Buchanan also applied for and fraudulently collected $11,271 in Washington State Department of Social and Health Services benefits to which she was not entitled. Buchanan has one prior conviction for fraud against the state welfare system.
Five other defendants have been charged this year with theft of government funds for fraudulently collecting Social Security benefits for years after their parents’ death. All five have entered guilty pleas and await sentencing. The following are the longest running of these frauds.
CLAUDIA RUTH GREENAMYER, 72, of University Place, fraudulently collected $219,960 following the death of her mother in 1996 and her father in 2000. The payments were made to bank accounts GREENAMYER held jointly with her parents. GREENAMYER continued to use the money without telling Social Security her parents were deceased. She forged signatures to continue the theft, and when confronted by agents in February 2013, she claimed to have seen her parents one month earlier. GREENAMYER pleaded guilty to theft of government funds on May 15, 2013.
DENNIS JAY GORIN, 76, of Eatonville, fraudulently collected about $100,000 in Social Security benefits belonging to his mother following her death in around 2003. GORIN did not notify federal or state authorities of his mother’s death and personally disposed of his mother’s body on property in a rural area. Between 2003 and 2013, GORIN forged his mother’s signature to embezzle an estimated $100,000 worth of Social Security benefits. GORIN pleaded guilty on May 21, 2013.
DAVID MICHAEL COSTA, 77, of Sammamish, fraudulently collected $297,948 of his mother’s Social Security benefits following her death in 1989. While COSTA originally thought the payments coming to the joint bank account were from an annuity, in 1992 he learned they were Social Security payments. Rather than alert authorities and pay back the $40,000 that had wrongly been paid, COSTA continued to collect the benefits for more than 15 more years. COSTA forged his mother’s name on documents and substituted his address for hers on all records, updating it three different times over the years. COSTA pleaded guilty on June 3, 2013.
These cases were investigated by the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General (SSA-OIG) and are being prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Seth Wilkinson as part of a partnership venture between the Social Security Administration Office of General Counsel and the United States Attorney’s Office.