Detroit man sentenced to 6 months for stealing more than $280K in government benefits

Posted at 10:53 AM, Mar 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-19 10:56:20-04

(WXYZ) — A Detroit man was sentenced Monday to six months in prison for stealing more than $280,000 in government benefits from the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

According to the court, 76-year-old Walter Terrell's mother passed away in the fall of 1981. His mother was receiving Social Security retirement insurance benefits. The agency was unaware of the woman's death and continued sending monthly checks in her name for 37 years. Terrell would then unlawfully convert the benefits by forging his late mother's name and cashing the checks. The money totaled $253,327.

During the same period, Terrell also "unlawfully retained $35,649.00 in payments made to his mother by the Department of Veterans Affairs."

In 2014, as part of the Medicare Non-Utilization Project, an SSA initiative designed to fight fraud by contacting elderly beneficiaries who have not used their Medicare in three or more years, SSA made contact with Mr. Terrell, who reported that his mother was “on vacation.” Terrell then arranged for someone to impersonate his mother during a subsequent phone call with the agency, allowing his scheme to continue for another three and a half years. The fraud was finally exposed after a 2018 SSA-OIG audit identified a death certificate for a woman who was ultimately confirmed to be Terrell’s mother.

After Terrell's six month prison term, he must spend three years on supervised release, according to the U.S. Attorney.

The court ordered Terrell to pay full restitution to the government.