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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of New Jersey

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Former Monmouth County, New Jersey, Resident, Admits Collecting Dead Wife’s Monthly Benefit Checks For Over Four Years

TRENTON, N.J. – A former Monmouth County, New Jersey, resident today admitted collecting Social Security disability checks paid to his wife for more than four years after she died, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Brian Unger, 64, formerly of Long Branch, New Jersey, and now a resident of ­Rincon, Puerto Rico, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson in Trenton federal court, to an information charging him with one count of theft of government money.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

In 2008, Unger’s wife applied to the Social Security Administration (SSA) for Disability Insurance Benefits due to illness which prevented her from working. The SSA maintains the program so eligible individuals who have serious physical or mental impairments are able to replace part of their lost earnings. In March 2008, the SSA determined that Unger’s wife was eligible for the program and began to electronically deposit money her bank account. She died in June 2009, but Unger failed to notify the SSA.

The SSA continued to issue direct deposits of benefit payments into Unger’s wife’s bank account through September 2013. Between June 2009 and October 2013, Unger accessed his deceased wife’s bank account on multiple occasions and used the funds deposited by the SSA on her behalf for his own personal expenses. He admitted that he took $82,854 in SSA benefits that had been improperly distributed to his deceased wife. He also admitted that he did not inform the SSA of his wife’s death because he wanted to continue to collect her disability benefits, which had been converted to Retirement Insurance Benefits in approximately May of 2013, when she would have turned 65, because he knew that informing the SSA of her death would have stopped the flow of those benefits.

The charge to which Unger pleaded guilty carries a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 18, 2017.

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the Social Security Administration, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge John F. Grasso, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark J. McCarren of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Special Prosecutions Division in Newark.

Defense counsel: Charles J. Uliano Esq., West Long Branch, New Jersey

Press Release Number: 
Updated October 13, 2016