Federal Operation Convicts Nine Montanans of More Than Half a Million Dollars in Social Security Fraud
HELENA – Montana U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter announced today the culmination of a federal operation that found nine Montanans engaged in Social Security fraud. Dubbed “Operation Save our Social Security,” Operation S.O.S. uncovered approximately a half-million dollars in fraudulent payments to individuals in Montana, which occurred when the individuals provided false information or made misrepresentations on their paperwork for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which also impacts eligibility for other federal assistance. In total, the operation uncovered approximately $390,000 in Social Security fraud, $107,288 in Medicaid fraud, and $34,500 in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) fraud. The individuals have been ordered to pay back the money they stole, including the final individual, Caroline Bighair, who was sentenced today to pay back $23,424 and to three years of supervised release. One recipient of the federal benefits agreed to pay back the money under an agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office due to personal circumstances.
“Supplemental Security Income relies on the truthfulness and personal integrity of the people who apply for and receive it,” said Mike Cotter, Montana U.S. Attorney. “When people get greedy and lie to the government in order to get more money than they deserve, the people who actually qualify and need the money to survive are harmed.”
“These individuals repeatedly lied, cheated and stole from some of the most vulnerable residents of Montana,” said Wilbert Craig, Special Agent in Charge of the Social Security Administration/Office of Inspector General Denver Field Division. “In many instances, the victims were their own family and left to fend for themselves. These are real crimes, impacting real lives, and extending beyond the victims to every U.S. taxpayer. I am proud of our combined efforts with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”
Known as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the money is drawn from general federal tax revenue and is designed to help aged, blind and disabled citizens who have little or no income. SSI provides cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing and shelter. Applications for Supplemental Security Income also impact eligibility for other federal monies, including Medicaid, survivor benefits, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps.
The following individuals were convicted as part of the operation: Caroline Big Hair, Vicky Blair, Tonya Brackett, Meghan Gontz, Nelson Grandchamp, Earline Pritchard, Georgia Wetsit, Bonnie Wingo. Another individual agreed to pay back the money through a diversion program due to personal circumstance. Examples of fraud include misrepresentations about whether a recipient was married, the composition of a recipient’s household, and how much money the recipient was making as income. Those misrepresentations directly impacted whether or not the individuals were eligible to receive federal money which, in some cases, was in excess of $1,000 per month from the federal government.
The operation was a collaborative effort between the Montana U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Social Security Administration, and the Office of Inspector General. If you suspect that someone is fraudulently receiving federal money, call to report it at 1-800-269-0271 or log on to http://oig.ssa.gov/report.