One-fourth of Social Security disability benefits were improperly awarded, according to a Senate report published last September. Outright fraud accounts for a lot of that. National Review Online thought you might like to put a face to the phenomenon, so here’s our Top Ten list of the most outrageous disability cheaters of the past year:
No. 10: The Marijuana Entrepreneur
In 2011, federal agents raided more than two dozen medical-marijuana businesses in Montana. At the Missoula home and warehouse of Scott Lee Hubeny, 48, they found 243 marijuana plants, several pounds of marijuana, and processing equipment. It was a profitable business: Between January 2010 and April 2011, Hubeny had deposited more than $37,000 into his bank accounts.
But Hubeny wasn’t supposed to be fit to work at all. He’d been collecting disability since 2000, receiving $1,400 a month. The Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General found that while Hubeny was running his lucrative medical-marijuana business, he received thousands in disability benefits from the Social Security Administration.
The marijuana grower pled guilty and was sentenced in May to five years of probation. He also has to pay back the $25,200 he stole from taxpayers.
No. 9: The Heir
When Robert Frese, 57, came into a substantial inheritance, he kept it secret. Claiming disability, the Exeter, N.H., man had been receiving Supplemental Security Income, a Social Security program available only for those living in poverty.
When he received his inheritance, Frese allegedly began falsifying the financial documents he was required to submit to the Social Security Administration, hiding his new wealth.
Frese received more than $62,000 before he was caught. He pled guilty in April and faces up to five years in prison, as well as a fine of up to $250,000.
No. 8: The Gambling Conspiracist
Charles Daniel Koss, 63, has some crazy imaginings about government: He reportedly thought that when the U.S. went off the gold standard in 1933, it began using its citizens as collateral for loans. By pledging their newborn baby’s birth certificate, parents could create a secret trust fund within the U.S. Treasury that the child could later access, Koss reportedly thought. The Department of Justice, you will not be surprised to discover, has called this so-called Redemption Theory “totally without merit,” adding that it has “no basis in law or fact.”
Nevertheless, after he’d been caught, Koss tried to repay the stolen money using his nonexistent Treasury account. It was the latest of many mistakes.
Despite claiming that myoneural disorder and hypertension prevented him from holding a job, Koss had long been working as a full-time loan officer. He collected disability payments for more than a decade, receiving more than $212,000.
Koss’s professed health problems didn’t keep him from bowling, boating, golfing, and playing horseshoes. And he was known as a gambler: At one casino, he had reportedly gambled away $260,000, the Kansas City Star reports.
#page#No. 7: Crazy Like a Fox
Regina Kay Vanlandingham, 51, turned out to be smarter than she let on.
From 1999 to 2011, the Kentucky resident received Supplemental Security Income — a feat she accomplished, according to the Office of the Inspector General, by “dress[ing] in a costume and pretend[ing] to be severely mentally disabled in front of Social Security agents.”
Before agents became suspicious, Vanlandingham had fraudulently received more than $191,000. She was sentenced this spring to a year in federal prison.
No. 6: A Short-Sighted Schemer
Robert Brauker, 38, qualified for disability in 1993, claiming that “significant visual impairments” would prevent him from becoming gainfully employed.
His poor eyesight, however, did not keep him from poring over the books at Michigan State University, where he graduated from law school in 2008.
Here’s the real kicker: In 2010, Brauker got a job as an attorney-adviser with none other than the Social Security Administration, which he was at the time defrauding.
The law caught up with him eventually. In January, Brauker pled guilty to theft of government property. He lost his Missouri law license, was put on probation for five years, and is required to pay back the $9,244 he wrongfully obtained.
No. 5: The Inside Man
In June 2007, the Social Security Administration hired a new employee to handle disability cases, authorizing benefits and processing overpayment assessments. But that new hire, Christopher George Perry, of Baltimore, was himself receiving disability benefits, and he had been since 1996.
By the time the Social Security Administration caught on, Perry had wrongfully collected more than $150,000 in benefits. In January of this year, he was sentenced to two years in prison and three years of supervised release.
#page#No. 4: The Private Eye
The clues were there.
David M. Disney, 45, claimed that a head injury kept him from working. But he renewed his New Jersey private detective’s license twice. And on behalf of a client, he even testified before the New York State Worker’s Compensation Board.
When Disney finally reported that he’d returned to work, he was still working the system, court records suggest. He told the Social Security Administration in January 2007 that he had begun putting in 15 to 20 hours a week and earning a paltry $10 an hour. In reality, he worked more than 150 hours during one two-week period in 2007, bringing in more than $19,800 — about $132 an hour.
From 2003 to 2008, he collected more than $144,000 in disability payments. He was indicted January by a federal grand jury and faces charges of conspiracy to commit Social Security disability fraud.
No. 3: The Lawmaker
Missouri representative Raymond E. Salva may have been breaking the law even as he created it.
The Democrat served from 2003 to 2010 in the Missouri statehouse, earning around $30,000 a year. But throughout his time in office, Salva also allegedly received $60,000 in disability payments for a neck injury he claimed kept him from holding a job, according to the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General.
Salva was indicted last November and faces multiple charges, including Social Security disability fraud.
No. 2: “I Forgot.”
When James W. Smith of Minnesota was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2005, he responded heroically. Or so it seemed . . .
He gave speeches and interviews about early-onset Alzheimer’s, lobbied and spoke at conferences, and even led a support group, according to the Star Tribune. The Twin Cities’ news channel KARE-11 TV named Smith a “health-care hero,” honoring him for his advocacy.
In November 2009, a psychologist reported to the Social Security Administration that Smith was “unshaven, struggled with simple questions, and spoke haltingly,” the Star Tribune reports.
But a few months before, Smith had competently represented himself in his own divorce proceedings. He had also bought an 80-acre farm. And when an undercover agent paid Smith two visits in 2010, he found that the purported Alzheimer’s patient was articulate and sharp.
By that point, Smith had received more than $144,000 in SSA disability payments, as well as more than $300,000 in private insurance benefits.
Smith pled guilty last August to theft of government funds, claiming that when he realized he did not have the disease in early 2008, he kept up the act so he could continue to receive his $6,773 monthly check.
No. 1: This Guy
— Jillian Kay Melchior is a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.