Milwaukie Man Sentenced to Prison for Stealing from his Disabled Cousin
PORTLAND, Ore. – The former legal guardian for his cognitively disabled cousin, was sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment for stealing more than $570,000 in annuity payments that were intended for the cousin’s care. Michael R. Braun, 68, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown on Monday for his commission of wire fraud that was ongoing for more than 22 years. Braun was also ordered to pay $573,604 restitution and serve a three-year term of supervised release.
According to court records, prior to 1984, Braun’s cognitively-disabled cousin, A.M., was residing with his parents in California. A.M.’s father was a retired Navy commander, and had purchased an annuity through the Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS) on behalf of A.M. in the event of the father’s death. In 1984, when A.M. was 22 years-old, both of A.M.’s parents died within a few months of each other. Braun, then 37 years old, was appointed as the legal guardian of A.M., and brought A.M. to Oregon. As A.M.’s legal guardian, Braun became the recipient of the DFAS annuity payments on A.M.’s behalf, and was required to use the payments for A.M.’s care, and to notify DFAS if he was no longer A.M.’s guardian.
Shortly after bringing A.M. to Oregon in 1984, defendant placed A.M. in the Fairview Training Center, and defendant thereafter had limited contact with him. Social service notes from 1984 state that "The Brauns are [A.M.’s] only family and are very concerned and active people." Case-worker notes in 1989 state that Braun had not been very involved with A.M.
In 1990, Braun was discharged as A.M.’s guardian by the Circuit Court of Washington County; however, Braun failed to notify DFAS that he had been removed as A.M.’s legal guardian. Between January 1990 and February 2013, Braun submitted a Certificate of Eligibility to DFAS each year certifying he was A.M.’s legal guardian, when in fact he knew he was not and knew he was not using the annuity payments for A.M.’s care. Additionally, in 1998, Braun directed DFAS to deposit A.M.’s annuity payments directly into Braun’s bank account. As a result of Braun’s repeated false statements and concealments, DFAS continued to deposit A.M.’s annuity payments each month into Braun’s own bank account, with the payments ranging from $1,500 to $2,700.
Between January 1990 and December 2012, Braun received $573,604 in annuity payments which he converted to his own use.
A.M. has resided in residential facilities for the past 30 years with only Social Security benefits as income.
According to court records, A.M.’s current guardian was alerted to the fraud when A.M. received a notice from the Internal Revenue Service advising A.M. that taxes were owed on A.M.’s income. After further inquiry, the guardian learned of the substantial annuity payments that A.M. had not received and notified police.
Braun pleaded guilty to the theft in March and argued for a probationary sentence with home detention.
In its court filings, the government argued for a prison sentence, stating that Braun’s criminal conduct was ongoing for more than 22 years, and that since his guardianship of A.M. was terminated in 1990, he had stolen his cousin’s benefits more than 250 times as he repeatedly converted A.M.’s funds to his own use each month. The government further argued that Braun had taken advantage of his cousin’s vulnerability and inability to communicate while betraying the trust of his cousin, uncle, and DFAS.
The government further stated "one of a parent’s greatest fears is whether a surviving child will be properly cared for in the event of the parent’s death. Defendant’s uncle took great measures to ensure that his son – who would require life-long care – had sufficient funds and a trusted family member to care for him. In return, defendant abandoned his cousin financially as well as emotionally, at a time when A.M. had no other family to care for him."
During the sentencing proceedings, the court heard from A.M.’s current Guardian Care Manager who stated he was saddened by the many missed possibilities for A.M. because of his limited resources, and questioned the quality of life A.M. could have had if he had received the funds that were intended for his special needs.
While imposing the sentence, Judge Brown described the repetitive nature of the offense and stated that she had "not seen anything comparable" to Braun’s fraud during her years as a judge and seeing many fraudulent schemes. Judge Brown also stated that the extraordinary breach of trust warranted a prison sentence, and that a probationary sentence would not reflect the seriousness of the offense.
The case was investigated by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, and prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Helen Cooper as part of a partnership venture between the Seattle Region, SSA Office of the General Counsel and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland, Oregon.