A Capitol Heights woman has been sentenced to two and a half years in prison for committing Social Security fraud.

Mattie Lee Neal, 61, will spend time in federal prison for falsely representing herself as a family member. Federal authorities said Neal fraudulently accepted Social Security benefits over a 16-year period ending in June of this year totaling more than $305,000.

Authorities said Neal initially used a fake birth certificate in her sister’s name to get the benefits. In April 1995, Neal began receiving Title II Social Security Disability benefits, which she placed in a Palm Desert National Bank Account.

She tried several times over the years, beginning in January 1992 and most recently in 2007, to get those benefits under her real name as well, officials said.

Neal pled guilty after federal authorities interviewed her at her home in May. They said Neal initially gave them the name of a family member, but eventually admitted her true identity.

“Neal advised that she started using her sister’s name and Social Security number in 1989,” the plea agreement stated. “Neal also admitted to applying for Social Security disability benefits in 1994 using her sister’s identity, and Neal stated that she has collected Social Security disability in the name [ of her sister] since 1994.”

Neal also admitted that she’d used her sister’s name to purchase a cell phone and services.

The investigation was spearheaded by Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Office of the Inspector General Cooperative Disability Investigations (CDI) program, which is tasked with seeking criminal and/or civil prosecution of anyone who knowingly receives improper Social Security benefits and also the people who facilitate that endeavor.

SSA Assistant Inspector General for External Relations Jonathan Lasher says the unit is necessary to save the country millions of dollars.

“Our CDI units make cases like this every day; cases that save enormous amounts of money,” Lasher said in a statement. “The average disability beneficiary costs the government $130,000…”

Neal was also ordered to pay $305,844.40 in restitution and will have three years of probation. The payments will begin once she’s released and have to be paid in full over a three-year period.

Despite the successful prosecution of Neal, Lasher said SSA still needs the public’s help in deterring more people from committing these crimes.

“A lot of our allegations come from people like you with a neighbor or acquaintance receiving disability benefits illegally,” he continued. “If you know of someone committing similar fraud, let us know.”

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO