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U.S. Attorney: Detroit Man Busted Stealing Dead Mom's Benefits Since 1981

March 19, 2019 - 11:51 am

DETROIT (WWJ) - A Detroit man will serve prison time after he collected his late mother's government benefits for 37 years.

The U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider announced Tuesday that 76-year-old Walter Terrell Sr. was sentenced in U.S. District Court Monday to six months in federal prison for stealing more than $280,000 from form Social Security Administration and Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

After he serves his prison time, Schneider said Terrell must also spend three years on supervised release.

According to court records, Terrell’s mother passed away in the fall of 1981. She was receiving Social Security retirement insurance benefits at the time, and because SSA was unaware of her death, SSA continued to issue monthly checks in her name.

He forging his late mother's name to cash hundreds of checks, according to investigators, stealing $253,327 in total from the SSA and $35,649 in payments by the VA before he was busted.

As for how he got caught, officials say an initiative designed to fight SSA fraud in 2014 attempted to contact Terrell's mother, noting that she hadn't used her Medicare in several years. 

Terrell answered the phone, authorities said, and told them his mom was "on vacation." During a follow-up call with the agency, investigators said Terrell arranged for someone to impersonate his mother, allowing his scheme to continue for another three and-a-half years.

The fraud was finally exposed after a 2018 SSA-OIG audit turned up a death certificate for a woman who was ultimately confirmed to be Terrell’s mom.