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February 24, 2023

Woman arrested for allegedly stealing over $450,000 in New York State pension and Social Security payments

On February 23, 2023, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia Ryan K. Buchanan and the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration Gail S. Ennis announced the arrest of a Georgia resident, Sandra Smith, for allegedly stealing over $450,000  in New York state pension and Social Security payments made to her deceased mother-in-law over a 16-year period.

Admitting to investigators that she stole the money, Sandra Smith was charged with 20 counts of wire fraud and 10 counts of theft of government funds. She was arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Justin S. Anand.

“The defendant callously took advantage of her mother-in-law’s death to profit at the expense of New York’s retirement system and the Social Security Administration,” DiNapoli said. “She has now been brought to justice and we will seek full restitution. I thank U.S. Attorney Buchanan and the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General for their partnership on this matter.”

“Smith allegedly stole money that taxpayers and government employees paid into both retirement systems,” Buchanan said. “Money she was not entitled to. Through this joint effort, one more person who believed they could game the system has been caught and will be prosecuted.”

“For nearly 15 years, the beneficiary’s death was allegedly concealed by Ms. Smith so that she could illegally obtain Social Security benefits, which is a federal crime. These charges exemplify that my office will continue to pursue those who defraud the Social Security Administration,” Ennis said. “I thank the New York Office of the State Comptroller for investigating with us. I also thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane Schulman for prosecuting this case.”

Sandra 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 and died on Sept. 14, 2006. Her family did not notify the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) or the SSA of her death and the retirement system received a change of address form purportedly signed and dated by “Minnie Smith.”  

At the time of Minnie Smith’s death in September 2006, Sandra Smith was her caretaker and handled her finances. As her caretaker, Sandra Smith had access to Minnie Smith’s bank account. After Minnie Smith died, Sandra Smith did not close the bank account. Instead, she kept Minnie Smith’s bank account open and NYSLRS and SSA continued to deposit funds into the account until early 2021. Sandra Smith knew exactly when those benefits would be deposited each month, and each month she allegedly withdrew the funds from the account almost as soon as they were deposited. 

When Minnie Smith's death was discovered, payments were stopped and the Comptroller DiNapoli’s Division of Investigations coordinated with the SSA-OIG, which was conducting its own review of the fraud.  

A total of $264,700 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.

* The Comptroller noted that the charges filed against Sandra Smith in this case are merely accusations and Smith is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

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Since taking office in 2007, Comptroller DiNapoli has been committed to fighting public corruption and encourages the public to help fight fraud and abuse. Allegations of fraud involving taxpayer money may be reported to the Comptroller DiNapoli by using the toll-free Fraud Hotline at 1-888-672-4555, by filing a complaint online using the Internet at https://www.osc.state.ny.us/investigations, or by mailing a complaint to the Office of the State Comptroller, Division of Investigations, 8th Floor, 110 State St., Albany, NY 12236.

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