Raymond C. O’Dell’s mother died 23 years ago, but that didn’t stop him from continuing to cash her social security checks.

On Monday, O’Dell was found guilty of stealing over $200,000 in his mother’s Social Security benefits and another $100,000 from the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System. Hiding a person’s death so you can continue to get social security checks is nothing new, what makes the case odd is the fact that O’Dell had very little financial incentive to commit the crime. He’s already a millionaire.

O’Dell, who owns several fast food restaurants including a Taco Bell franchise, is said to be worth more than $4 million, with about $431,000 in cash.

Prosecutors say they are baffled by his crime, which appears to be done for little reason.

“Social Security fraud cases often involve genuinely impoverished persons who steal to improve an otherwise desperate existence,” Wilkinson said in court papers. “While those circumstances do not excuse theft from social programs, they mitigate the crime.

“Here, however, (O’Dell) has had a lucrative business career as the owner of fast food restaurants and real estate.” [source]

By way of his defense, O’Dell’s attorney says that the millions he amassed were after he started the scam, but he wasn’t able to stop cashing the checks without exposing himself as a fraud. So he just kept going, hoping the house of cards would never tumble.

Unfortunately for O’Dell, the cards did tumble when a representative from the social security office called O’Dell and gave him a simple yet impossible request: “Can I please speak to your mother?”

O’Dell confessed to the crime once he was found out and a court swiftly found him guilty. He was sentenced to six months in prison and ordered to pay $188,436 in restitution and an additional $20,000 fine. He will also be tried separately for the other $100,000 he stole from the Retirement System.

Despite right-wing bluster, welfare and entitlement programs have a relatively low rate of fraud.  Last Summer, The Atlantic wrote an article that tried to figure out exactly how often the government is scammed. What they found was that not only was it really hard to find an exact number, but that programs varied widely. Studies did find that welfare and food stamps had some of the lowest levels of government fraud, contrary to what republican politicians would have us believe.

One government report says fraud accounts for less than 2 percent of unemployment insurance payments. It’s seemingly impossible to find statistics on “welfare” (i.e., TANF) fraud, but the best guess is that it’s about the same. A bevy of inspector general reports found “improper payment” levels of 20 to 40 percent in state TANF programs – but when you look at the reports, the payments appear all to be due to bureaucratic incompetence (categorized by the inspector general as either “eligibility and payment calculation errors” or “documentation errors”), rather than intentional fraud by beneficiaries.

Similarly, Maine’s governor recently spent a great deal of time and energy trying to uncover widespread food stamp fraud in his state. Instead, his own research revealed that misuse of EBT money was “about two-tenths of 1 percent of total purchases.”

Most fraud, it turns out, comes from contractors and corrupt government agencies and charities. For example, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it wasn’t the poor who were lying to get money from the government, it was the contractors who were hired to help them. The corruption was so rampant that the Department of Justice had to step in and prosecute thousands of people who were suspected of stealing money meant for charities:

The US Justice Department has charged more than 400 government and charity workers for illegally benefiting from Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing flooding, according to their report obtained by the National Association of Chiefs of Police.

“Disaster relief agencies have reported to law enforcement that they have identified thousands of questionable or possibly fraudulent payments to purported hurricane victims,” the DOJ report stated.

From Taco Bell millionaires to housing developers in New Orleans, it appears that republicans finally found their government fraudsters. They were just looking on the wrong side of the socioeconomic spectrum.

 

Comments

comments

About The Author

I let my curiosity take me for a walk. My job is to describe what I find under the rocks.