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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Virginia

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Tazewell County Woman Pleads Guilty to Stealing More Than $255,000 in Black Lung and Social Security Benefits

ABINGDON, Va. – A North Tazewell, Virginia woman who stole more than $255,000 in Black Lung and Social Security benefits pled guilty last week in U.S. District Court.

Martha Patrick Williams, 79, waived her right to be indicted and pled guilty last week to one count of receipt and conversion of public monies and one count of fraud in connection with Black Lung benefits and the receipt of Social Security benefits in the name of her long-deceased mother.  The charges to which she pled guilty have a maximum statutory sentence of 10 years.

According to court documents, Williams is the daughter of Gracie Neel Winningham, who died in 2003. Winningham had been a lawful recipient of Federal Black Lung benefits which were designed to provide financial compensation to qualified disabled coal miners and managed by the Department of Labor’s Office of Workers Compensation Program - Division of Coal Mine Workers Compensation.  

Following Winningham’s death in 2003 and continuing until 2021, Williams received, endorsed, and deposited monthly Black Lung benefit checks made payable to her mother. In order to continue to receive these checks, Williams forged her mother’s signature on DOL Form CM-929, the annual certification of personal information required by the DOL.  On several occasions, Williams communicated with others posing as Winningham.  Williams also received, endorsed, and deposited monthly Social Security payments made payable to her deceased mother.

In all, Williams received $255,823 in both Black Lung and Social Security benefits to which she was not entitled.

U.S. Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh of the Western District of Virginia made the announcement.

The Department of Labor, the Social Security Administration, and the Russell County Sheriff’s Office are investigating the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel J. Murphy is prosecuting the case.

Updated June 1, 2022