How does SSDI fraud hurt the community?
In a rare case of Social Security Disability fraud, a family managed to convince authorities that several members of the family were disabled and to collect close to half a million dollars over a period of years. The maximum penalty for conspiracy to defraud the Social Security Administration is 5 years in federal prison and $250, 000 in fines. The case is now being presented to a grand jury.
Apparently, the fraudulent activity began when the mother of the family was 15 years old — she is now 53. For 37 years, Doreen Mitchell claimed to have hallucinations and to be unable to drive or work. Mistakenly diagnosed as having schizophrenia, she received SSDI benefits for decades.
Her cousin, John Mitchell, followed suit. She later claimed that her two sons had inherited her illness. When examined, the various family members claimed to be unable to work, drive, shop or clean themselves. Doreen recently told a clinical psychologist that she didn’t “like to see nobody or go nowhere.” Family members, at different times, said that they saw ghosts or feigned an inability to speak.
Suspicions of Fraud Confirmed
Suspecting fraud because four members of the same family were receiving benefits, the Social Security Cooperative Disability Investigations Unit started to perform surveillance, documenting the behavior of the various individuals. At times, Doreen’s benefits were discontinued, but she always managed to get them reinstated.
Though during clinical interviews Doreen appeared disheveled, mumbled, and claimed that she could not go out alone, eventually she was observed shopping, banking, driving, and scrolling on a cell phone while dressed appropriately.
Her son, Michael, who had been diagnosed as autistic, mentally retarded, and psychiatrically disturbed, appeared to be fully competent during a covert interview. He stated during that interview that he did automotive work, drove, and had gotten married in Las Vegas. The other two family members had similarly astonishing discrepancies between their “patient” and everyday personae.
In the face of government investigations into such activities, far less than 1 percent of SSDI claims are proven fraudulent. Those who commit fraud do a terrible disservice not only to taxpayers from whom they are flagrantly stealing, but from the vast majority of people receiving benefits who have severe disabilities and often subsist on those benefits alone.
When trying to navigate the Social Security Disability Insurance system, it is always wise to have a skilled attorney by your side, to ensure that you receive the benefits to which you are entitled, and avoid any implication of fraudulent behavior.