Prominent Ghanaian Influencer Charged For Role In Romance Scheme And Extradited From United Kingdom To The United States
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Edward J. Ryan, the Special Agent in Charge of the United States Social Security Administration, Office of the Inspector General, announced that THOMAS SHEA, a former New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) sergeant, pled guilty today to one count of theft of public funds for fraudulently obtaining more than $600,000 in disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). In 1995, SHEA submitted a fraudulent application for disability benefits to the SSA that contained misrepresentations regarding his claimed disability. Then, at the same time SHEA was collecting disability benefits in the years since 1995, he was employed in a number of positions that he knowingly failed to report to the SSA. SHEA pled guilty before U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Thomas Shea defrauded the Social Security Administration for over twenty years, fraudulently collecting more than half a million dollars of funds meant for people who are the truly disabled. I would like to thank the Social Security Administration, Office of the Inspector General, for their work in bringing an end to Shea’s fraud.”
Special Agent in Charge John F. Grasso said: “This investigation should serve as a warning to people who choose to selfishly defraud Social Security’s disability programs. The Social Security Office of the Inspector General vigorously pursues these cases and works closely on prosecution efforts with United States Attorney’s Offices across the country. We will continue to partner with the USAO in the Southern District of New York to identify and prosecute Social Security fraud perpetrators. We would also like to thank the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for its assistance with this this investigation. I strongly encourage the public to report suspected instances of Social Security fraud to the OIG’s Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271 or https://oig.ssa.gov/report.”
According to the Information filed in the case, as well as statements made during the plea proceedings:
Beginning in 1981, SHEA worked as a police officer with the NYPD. In approximately 1987, SHEA was promoted to sergeant and then retired in 1993 due to a shoulder injury.
In January 1995, at the age of approximately 35, SHEA submitted a fraudulent application for Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”), a federal benefits program that provides monthly cash benefits to individuals who have worked in the past and paid into Social Security, but who can no longer work due to qualifying medical disabilities. In order to receive disability benefits, a beneficiary must certify that he or she is incapable of performing any gainful activity due to the stated disability. In addition, a beneficiary must report to the SSA all sources of income from work activity and any changes in the beneficiary’s medical condition. The application for SSDI submitted by SHEA contained misrepresentations regarding SHEA’s claimed disability.
From June 1994 through September 2015, SHEA received over $600,000 in disability benefits for himself and members of his family based on his reported disability and lack of other work or income. During this time, SHEA also provided the SSA with periodic forms concerning his status. For example, in January 1999, SHEA submitted a form to the SSA in which SHEA agreed that he would “notify the Social Security Administration if [his] medical condition improves or [he] go[es] to work.” By signing this document, SHEA acknowledged his understanding that “anyone who makes a false statement or representation of a material fact in an application or for use in determining a right to payment under the Social Security Act commits a crime under Federal Law.”
While SHEA was receiving SSDI benefits, SHEA was gainfully employed in a number of positions that he knowingly failed to report to the SSA. For example, from 1999 through 2014, SHEA worked as a commercial driver in the Bronx, New York, and elsewhere for at least three different employers.
In June 2015, the SSA issued a decision to redetermine the eligibility of SHEA for disability benefits on the basis that there was reason to believe that fraud or similar fault was involved in SHEA’s application for benefits. Specifically, the SSA found that SHEA’s application was based on tainted evidence submitted by a discredited physician, and that there was no non-tainted evidence supporting the prior finding of SHEA’s disability.
In September 2015, after the SSA scheduled a hearing regarding the eligibility of SHEA for disability benefits, SHEA requested that the SSA terminate his benefits.
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SHEA, 56, of Stony Point, New York, pled guilty to one count of theft of government funds, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. According to the agreement with the Government to which he pled guilty, SHEA owes approximately $622,843 in restitution and forfeiture. SHEA is scheduled to be sentenced on October 7, 2016, before Judge Rakoff.
The maximum potential sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding investigative work of the United States Social Security Administration, Office of the Inspector General.
The prosecution of this case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant United States Attorney Sagar K. Ravi is in charge of the prosecution.