A Broward County resident was sentenced today to over three years in federal prison for stealing social security benefits, for years following her grandparents’ death.
Benjamin G. Greenberg, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Margaret Moore-Jackson, Special Agent in Charge, Social Security Administration, Office of Inspector General (SSA-OIG), made the announcement.
Myriam Etienne, 49, of Pompano Beach, was sentenced today, by U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn, to 41 months’ imprisonment, 3 years of supervised release and ordered to pay restitution.
On January 24, 2018, Etienne was convicted by a federal jury of ninety counts of theft of government funds, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 641. According to evidence presented at trial, Etienne received Social Security Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits for her grandparents since 2004. The SSA administers numerous programs to provide for the material needs of individuals and their families, including SSI. SSI is a federal program that provides assistance to lower income individuals to meet basic food, shelter, medical and clothing needs. Monthly SSI benefits are paid to eligible individuals.
The evidence presented at trial revealed that these benefits were paid to the Etienne’s grandmother and grandfather and the defendant controlled their funds as a representative payee. The SSI funds were direct deposited into a joint bank account the defendant shared with her deceased grandparents. The trial evidence showed that the Etienne’s grandfather died in Haiti, in 2006, and the defendant’s grandmother died in Haiti, in 2009, and that both grandparents left the United States years before their deaths. The defendant, however, kept receiving the SSI benefits and did not report that her grandparents left the United States or subsequently died in Haiti to the SSA.
The evidence further showed that Etienne signed representative payee accounting records, years after her grandparents deaths, verifying that the SSI money was being utilized for her their food, shelter, clothing and medical treatment. After the defendant’s grandmother and grandfather left the country and subsequently died, the defendant received over $160,000 in SSI payments. The evidence at trial further revealed that the defendant utilized these SSI funds, that had been direct deposited into the joint account, to make mortgage payments on her home, to purchase airline tickets and make payments on her BMW X6 sport utility vehicle.
Mr. Greenberg commended the investigative efforts of the SSA-OIG, the U.S. Department of State and the FBI’s Legal Attaché in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Katz.