TACOMA WOMAN CONVICTED OF SOCIAL SECURITY FRAUD
Defendant Claimed Disability Benefits while Working in her Mother’s Beauty Salon
SUZETTE BLAND, 34, of Tacoma, Washington was convicted last week in U.S. District Court in Tacoma of two counts of Social Security Fraud. BLAND was convicted after a jury deliberated about 90 minutes following a three day trial. BLAND was convicted of concealing or failing to disclose her right to benefits and making false statements to the Social Security Administration.
According to records filed in the case, BLAND was granted disability benefits in 1996 after claiming she suffered from “anxiety disorder,” “anxiety attack,” depression, and back and neck pain. BLAND claimed her “anxiety attacks” worsened around people. The Social Security Administration twice denied BLAND’s application for disability benefits, but an Administrative Law Judge found her disabled following a hearing on the matter. When the disability grant was made, and each time it was reviewed, BLAND was told that if her circumstances changed and she was able to work she was required to inform the Social Security Administration.
In 2002, the Internal Revenue Service alerted the Social Security Administration that BLAND reported nearly $5,000 in winnings from BJ’s Bingo in Fife, Washington. When questioned, BLAND claimed this was the only additional income she had received. She signed forms pledging she was being truthful and would alert the government to any additional income or face federal charges.
In 2005 the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General (SSA-OIG) got a tip that BLAND was working at her mother’s hair salon in Tacoma. Subsequent investigation revealed BLAND had gotten her cosmetology license in 1998. Witnesses at trial testified that BLAND had been working at Gabrielle’s Hair Salon as early as 1998. Agents with the SSA-OIG visited the salon and observed BLAND working at least five hours a day on multiple occasions. One even gave her a tip for her services. In November 2005, BLAND was arrested and business records were seized from the hair salon. Some records noted weekly cash payments to BLAND. At trial, prosecutors showed undercover videotape of BLAND working in the salon, and still photos of her taking smoke breaks out front.
BLAND illegally collected $45,203 in Social Security benefits between August 1998 and November 2005. “As a result of the investigation and prosecution of Ms. Bland, the Social Security Administration has ceased paying her thousands of dollars in benefits every year that would have continued indefinitely,” said Special Assistant United States Attorney Norman Barbosa. In addition the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which assisted in this investigation, has ceased subsidizing Ms. Bland’s housing. This subsidy was likewise based on Ms. Bland’s false claim that she could not work and was not earning any income.
BLAND faces as much as 21 months in prison when sentenced by U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton on October 20, 2006 at 9:00 a.m.
The case was investigated by the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General and was prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Norman Barbosa and Assistant United States Attorney Kathryn Warma. Mr. Barbosa’s position is funded by the Social Security Administration to prosecute crimes involving misuse of social security funds and identification.
For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.