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 today 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.
“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 but 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, she 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. 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 her death was discovered, payments were stopped and the Comptroller’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.
Sandra Smith accessed the pension and social security funds through online bank transfers from Minnie Smith’s account. She transferred $245,192.72 of the ill-gotten funds into her personal account, then withdrew cash or transferred the money to other bank accounts.
Smith admitted to investigators that she stole the money. She is charged with 20 counts of wire fraud and 10 counts of theft of government funds.
Smith, 49, was arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Justin S. Anand.
The charges filed in this case are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
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.state.ny.us/investigations, or by mailing a complaint to: Office of the State Comptroller, Division of Investigations, 8th Floor, 110 State St., Albany, NY 12236.