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Man hid his mom’s death in 1990 and stole $830,000 in benefits meant for her, feds say

A pile of money. (Government Accountability Office)

A California man kept his mother’s death hidden and her bank account open for more than 30 years — when he stole $830,000 in government benefits paid to her, federal prosecutors said.

In 1990, after his mother’s terminal pancreatic cancer diagnosis, the now 65-year-old Poway man “methodically laid a foundation” for his fraud scheme that went undetected for 32 years, prosecutors wrote in court documents.

“As far as the United States is aware, Defendant’s crime is the largest financial loss that the United States Government has suffered in any individual deceased beneficiary case that has been federally prosecuted,” prosecutors wrote in his sentencing memo.

The man’s mother died in Japan on Oct. 22, 1990, court documents say. Afterward, he went on to steal her benefits from November 1990 until September 2022, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California.

The benefits included his mother’s Social Security Administration widow’s pension and an annuity from the Department of Defense, which pays annuities to “eligible survivors” of retired or active duty military members who have died, prosecutors said.

Since the man never alerted the SSA or the Defense Department of his mother’s death, the agencies continued paying her benefits, according to prosecutors. The man is accused of forging her signature on eligibility documents to keep the payments coming and forging income taxes.

When federal agents confronted the man about the fraud in June 2022, he lied — telling them “his mother was alive in Japan” — and continued to steal her benefits for about three more months, a sentencing memorandum says.

Now, a judge has sentenced the man to two years in federal prison, the attorney’s office announced in an Oct. 27 news release.

This comes after the man pleaded guilty to money laundering and Social Security fraud on June 27, McClatchy News previously reported.

McClatchy News contacted the man’s defense attorney for comment on Oct. 30 and didn’t receive an immediate response.

Man now owes $850,000 and must give up home

As part of the man’s sentencing, the man was ordered to pay $858,876.28 in restitution, the release said.

He must also give up $830,000 in assets, including his home in Poway, which was originally his mother’s home, according to the sentencing memo.

According to a Zillow estimate, the 1,200-square-foot, four-bedroom, two-bathroom home is valued at just under $850,000.

In a sentencing memo submitted on the man’s behalf, his attorney, Knut S. Johnson, wrote that his client was diagnosed with “mental illness” in the 1970s, resulting in him becoming bankrupt and unable to remain employed after his mother died.

“This is not the case of a person who stole $800,000.00 and bought frivolous items — it is the case of a mentally ill man unable to care for himself who could not leave his childhood home and so continued to receive her modest retirement checks,” Knut wrote.

Knut said his client received about $25,000 in his mother’s benefits each year while “his mental health declined” and “so did the condition of his childhood home.”

Meanwhile, prosecutors described the man as methodical in his scheme in their sentencing memo.

In addition to stealing his mother’s benefits, the man also used her identity to open credit accounts in her name with at least nine different banks, prosecutors said.

This caused a loss of over $28,000, according to the release.

The “defendant’s fraud and concealment of his mother’s death resulted in a financial windfall beyond his wildest dreams: more than $800,000 in stolen public money, and access to credit that he could never have obtained in his own right,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.

Poway is about 20 miles northeast of San Diego.


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