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Press Release

Detroit Man Sentenced to 6 Months in Prison for Stealing More than $280,000 in Government Benefits

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Michigan

A Detroit man was sentenced yesterday to six months in prison for stealing more than two-hundred and eighty thousand dollars from the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider announced.

Schneider was joined in the announcement by Resident Agent in Charge Adam Lowder, Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General, Office of Investigations, Detroit Office; and Special Agent in Charge Gregg Hirstein, Department Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General.

Walter Terrell Sr., 76, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh, III in Detroit, Michigan.  After the conclusion of his prison term, Terrell must also spend three years on supervised release.  The Court further ordered Terrell to pay full restitution to the government.

According to court records, Terrell’s mother passed away in the fall of 1981.  She was receiving Social Security retirement insurance benefits at the time and because SSA was unaware of her death, SSA continued to issue monthly Treasury checks in her name.  The erroneous payments continued for approximately 37 years—$253,327.00 in total.  Terrell then unlawfully converted those benefits by forging his late mother’s name and cashing hundreds of checks.  During the same period, Terrell also unlawfully retained $35,649.00 in payments made to his mother by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In 2014, as part of the Medicare Non-Utilization Project, an SSA initiative designed to fight fraud by contacting elderly beneficiaries who have not used their Medicare in three or more years, SSA made contact with Mr. Terrell, who reported that his mother was “on vacation.”  Terrell then arranged for someone to impersonate his mother during a subsequent phone call with the agency, allowing his scheme to continue for another three and a half years.  The fraud was finally exposed after a 2018 SSA-OIG audit identified a death certificate for a woman who was ultimately confirmed to be Terrell’s mother.

This case was investigated by special agents from both SSA-OIG and VA-OIG and was prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan A. Particka.

Updated April 18, 2023

Financial Fraud