News and Press Releases

United States Attorney Jenny A. Durkan
Western District of Washington

WOMAN WHO STOLE IDENTITY OF DECEASED STEP-DAUGHTER TO COLLECT SOCIAL SECURITY PAYMENTS SENTENCED TO 4 YEARS IN PRISON
Defendant has Lengthy Criminal History

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 10, 2011

ELIZA H. R. BIGHETTY, 59, of Everett, Washington, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to four years in prison, three years of supervised release and $95,310 in restitution for aggravated identity theft and theft of government funds. BIGHETTY used the social security number of her deceased step-daughter to collect social security benefits that did not belong to her. At sentencing U.S. District Judge James L. Robart noted that BIGHETTY’s criminal career “spanned 40 years... and continued up to her arrest.” Judge Robart said BIGHETTY was manipulative in her “out and out effort to defraud the government.”

According to records filed in the case, between May 1997, and June 2007, BIGHETTY collected $79,496 in social security benefits by using the social security number and identity of her deceased step-daughter. In June 2006, BIGHETTY committed Aggravated Identity Theft when she used the deceased step-daughter’s identity and social security number to apply for Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) benefits. BIGHETTY collected $15,814 before the fraud was detected.

BIGHETTY has a lengthy criminal history: passing bad checks (1973, 1986), assault with a deadly weapon (1982), theft (1992), rendering criminal assistance (2003), and initiating a false report (2003). The rendering criminal assistance count relates to BIGHETTY assisting a “three strikes” defendant to escape from custody in Pierce County, Washington. That defendant was later fatally shot by police in BIGHETTY’s apartment.

BIGHETTY used some of the money she obtained by fraud to purchase land in eastern Washington in the Tonasket area. She also has collected government benefits while she resided in other states including North Dakota, Alaska and California.

The case was investigated by the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General (SSA-OIG), the DSHS Division of Fraud Investigations, and the Washington State Patrol (WSP). The case was prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Johanna Vanderlee. Ms. Vanderlee is an attorney with the Social Security Administration, specially designated to prosecute Social Security related cases in federal court.

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