A 50-year-old Georgia woman, Sandra Smith, was sentenced to over a year in federal prison and ordered to pay full restitution after admitting she stole $459,050 in New York state pension and federal social security payments from her deceased mother-in-law’s bank account, State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia Ryan K. Buchanan, and Inspector General for the Social Security Administration Gail S. Ennis announced today.
“The defendant callously exploited her mother-in-law’s death in an effort to defraud New York’s retirement system and the Social Security Administration,” DiNapoli said. “Thanks to the work of my investigative team, U.S. Attorney Buchanan, and the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General, she has been held accountable.”
“Theft from government benefits programs is a common crime that regrettably often follows the death of a family member,” Buchanan said. “This defendant stole nearly half a million dollars from two separate government entities. Her sentence reflects the seriousness of her crimes and hopefully will help to deter others from engaging in similar conduct.”
“Ms. Smith knowingly concealed her mother-in-law’s death to steal over $450,000 in retirement benefits from the deceased’s bank account. Her selfish actions were criminal, and this sentence now holds her responsible for repayment of $194,351 in Social Security funds,” Ennis said. “I thank the New York State Comptroller’s Office for their work in this joint investigation and the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane Schulman for prosecuting this case.”
Smith’s mother-in-law, Minnie Smith, was a longtime Brooklyn resident who had worked for the State Insurance Fund from 1985 until her retirement in 2005. She subsequently moved to Georgia to be close to family but died on Sept. 14, 2006.
Minnie Smith’s family did not notify the New York state retirement system or the Social Security Administration (SSA) of her death. Instead, the retirement system received a change of address form purportedly signed and dated by the deceased.
At the time of Minnie Smith’s death in September 2006, Sandra Smith was her caretaker and handled her finances. As her caretaker, she had access to Minnie Smith’s bank account. After her mother-in-law died, Sandra Smith kept the bank account open while the retirement system and SSA continued to deposit funds into the account until early 2021 when Minnie Smith’s death was discovered.
A total of $264,699 in retirement system payments and $194,351 in Social Security payments were deposited into Minnie Smith’s bank account from September 2006 through April 2021.
Sandra Smith, of Morrow, Ga., accessed her deceased mother-in-law’s bank account online and then transferred the pension and social security funds into her personal bank accounts from which she either withdrew cash or further transferred the money to other bank accounts in her control.
Smith pleaded guilty to two federal counts of theft of government funds in July.
Since taking office in 2007, DiNapoli has committed to fighting public corruption and encourages the public to help fight fraud and abuse. New Yorkers can report allegations of fraud involving taxpayer money by calling the toll-free Fraud Hotline at 1-888-672-4555, by filing a complaint online at https://www.osc.ny.gov/investigations, or by mailing a complaint to: Office of the State Comptroller, Division of Investigations, 8th Floor, 110 State St., Albany, NY 12236.