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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Maryland

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, October 13, 2016

Caroline County Couple Pleads Guilty to Stealing Over $265,700 in Social Security Disability Benefits

Husband Worked for over Six Years While Receiving SSA Disability Benefits

Baltimore, Maryland – Josephine D. Wright, and her husband, James B. Wright, both age 55, of Greensboro, Maryland, pleaded guilty to theft of government property arising from a scheme to steal over $265,700 in social security benefits. Josephine Wright pleaded guilty today and James Wright pleaded guilty on September 13, 2016.

The guilty pleas were announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein and Special Agent in Charge Michael McGill of the Social Security Administration - Office of Inspector General, Philadelphia Field Division.

According to their guilty pleas, in 1993, James Wright applied for and began receiving Social Security Administration’s (SSA) disability benefits for himself and his children based on his inability to work due to a mental impairment and head injury.  Josephine Wright was designated as his representative payee. As the representative payee Josephine Wright was responsible for everything related to benefits that her husband would do for himself, including reporting any changes which could affect his eligibility for benefits. As of 2014, Wright was receiving $1,202 per month, which was direct deposited into a bank account in Josephine Wright’s name.  In yearly mailings from SSA the Wrights were notified of the requirement that they report any return to work by James, regardless of the amount of earnings.

No later than January 1998, James Wright began working as a commercial truck driver, hauling freight for various companies.  Between January 1998 and October 2014, Wright worked approximately 40 to 60 hours per week, owned his own truck, and maintained a commercial driver’s license.  In order to maintain his commercial driver’s license, Wright regularly submitted medical documents verifying that he was in good health and capable of working.  The Wrights did not report James Wright’s work to SSA.

In order to prevent SSA from discovering James Wright’s work activity, the Wrights formed a company in Josephine Wright’s name.  James Wright’s paychecks were issued to the company and deposited in the company bank account.  In 2011, SSA attempted to assess an overpayment to Wright’s record based on the company’s earnings, but Josephine Wright falsely reported that the earnings were not James Wright’s, but were paid solely to the company for other services.  On several occasions, including in March 2014, SSA received a work activity report from Wright requesting updated information about his work activity.  The form was completed by James Wright, and had hand written across the page “DID NOT FIND A JOB. NOT WORKING AT THIS TIME.”  At the bottom of the page, Wright wrote, “NOT ABLE TO WORK!” and “NOT ABLE TO DRIVE, TAKE CARE OF MONEY, COOK, CLEAN, OTHER DAY TO DAY LIFE.”  The form was signed by Josephine Wright.

Had SSA been aware of James Wright’s work activity and earnings, he would not have been qualified to receive the $265,746.60, in disability benefits SSA paid to Josephine Wright between January 1998 and October 2014.

As part of their plea agreements, the Wrights have agreed to the entry of a restitution order of $265,746.40.

Josephine Wright faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for theft of government property. U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz has scheduled sentencing for December 21, 2016 at 9:30 a.m. 

James Wright and the government have agreed that if the Court accepts the plea agreement he will be sentenced to 18 months in prison.  Judge Motz has scheduled James Wright’s sentencing for December 2, 2016 at 11:00 a.m.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended the Social Security Administration - Office of Inspector General for its work in the investigation and thanked Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Lauren E. Perry, who is prosecuting the case.

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Updated October 13, 2016