88 Year-Old Author Sentenced for Fraud
PORTLAND, Ore. – A former resident of Pacific City was sentenced in federal court on December 3, 2013, for stealing more than $78,000 from the Social Security Administration (SSA), the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS), and Medicaid. Peter C. Byrne, 88, was sentenced to a three year term of probation and required to pay full restitution by the end of the week. Byrne pleaded guilty in August and admitted that between 1992 and 2012 he concealed from SSA and DHS his travels outside the United States and his compensation, while receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and food stamps. Byrne had previously deposited $25,000 with the court for restitution and indicated he was prepared to pay the full balance by the end of the day.
According to documents filed by the government and Byrne’s admissions, Byrne began receiving SSI, a need-based benefit, in 1990 and was required to report to SSA certain travel outside the United States as well as his income and compensation. Between 1992 and 2012, Byrne traveled outside the U.S. for more than 30 days at least 15 times, on some occasions remaining outside the U.S. for more than four months. Between 2009 and 2012, Byrne also maintained bank accounts with Barclays of England and Wells Fargo where he held more than $85,000 at one time, and failed to disclose these bank accounts to SSA and DHS. When Byrne was questioned by SSA and investigators in 2012, he failed to disclose all of his travels and assets. When SSA asked to see his passport, Byrne advised that he had accidentally destroyed his passport by running it through the washing machine.
Investigators subsequently served a search warrant at Byrne’s residence and located financial and travel records, and his Will. Byrne urged that the Will be kept confidential because he feared the Social Security Administration would come after his estate for benefits he unlawfully received. Agents also located a copy of a letter from Byrne to Safari Press directing that any future royalties for his published books be sent to his girlfriend. Byrne had previously been questioned by investigators whether he was receiving royalties for the books he had written on topics such as his search for Bigfoot and game-hunting in Nepal. Byrne denied receiving royalties.
Prosecutors also noted that in the 1990s, Byrne had two previous overpayments of SSI because of unreported travel and assets. Those prior overpayments had been handled administratively by SSA.
The Honorable Garr M. King stated that Byrne’s actions had been intentional and criminal, but agreed with the parties’ recommended sentence of probation primarily because of Byrne’s age.
The case was investigated by the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General, Office of Investigations, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Oregon Department of Human Services, and the Tillamook County Sheriff’s Office, and was prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Helen L. Cooper, as part of a partnership venture between the Social Security Administration Office of General Counsel and the United States Attorney’s Office in Portland.