Tacoma – An Olalla, Washington man was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to 25 months in prison for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft for his decades-long theft of his missing brother’s identity and benefits, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman. Chris Harvey Sayler, 74, began fraudulently collecting his missing brother’s Social Security Disability benefits since at least 1998. Over the last twenty years, those benefits total more than $388,000. At the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Bryan said, “This is a sad case for all concerned – including the public…. It’s a crime against all the citizen taxpayers in the country.” Judge Bryan noted that but for Sayler’s age, health and military service, he would have faced a much longer sentence.
“Over the course of this investigation, the defendant has made conflicting statements about when he last saw his brother – who was reported missing in 1989,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Gorman. “Our hope was that the investigation could shed light on what happened to Jarvis Sayler. While that has not happened, we are able to hold his brother accountable for stealing benefits from government programs that are designed to help the most needy in our community.”
According to records in the case, Chris Sayler’s brother, Jarvis L. Sayler, traveled from his home in Missouri to the Vancouver, Washington area in 1988. He told relatives that he planned to visit Chris Sayler, then return to Missouri to build a home on property there. Jarvis Sayler was born with partial eyesight, and had been receiving Social Security disability benefits since 1977. Jarvis Sayler wrote a few letters to Missouri between June and September 1988, but that was the last anyone heard from him. A third brother in Missouri reported Jarvis Sayler missing in March of 1989. The Clark County Sheriff’s Office interviewed Chris Sayler at that time about his brother’s whereabouts. Sayler claimed his brother moved from his home after the two had an argument. That was the last reported sighting of Jarvis Sayler.
In 2013, a person claiming to be Jarvis Sayler attempted to renew a Washington State ID card, but the renewal was denied because facial recognition software indicated the person in the ID photo was the same as in a drivers license photo of Chris Sayler. When Sayler went to a Department of Licensing Office to renew a license (in his own name) years later, he claimed that he and Jarvis were twins and that was the reason for the facial recognition report. The clerk pointed out that the two men’s birthdates were four years apart, but Sayler said it is a “rare twin situation” that does occur. The investigation has revealed that Sayler and Jarvis Sayler are not biologically related.
In 2019, the Department of Licensing referred the matter to the Social Security Office of Inspector General (SSA-OIG) for investigation. The investigation revealed that as early as 1998, Sayler’s photo appears on Jarvis Sayler’s identification card and that the addresses on Jarvis’ cards and other identifying documents are associated with Chris Sayler.
Since at least 1998, Jarvis Sayler’s Social Security benefits went to a bank account opened with an address in Vancouver, Washington. When Chris Sayler moved to Olalla, the address on the account was updated to the new address as well. ATM withdrawal records and debit card records from retailers such as Costco and Fred Meyer show Sayler withdrawing money or making purchases with the debit card associated with Jarvis Sayler’s account.
Speaking with family members in September 2019, Sayler claimed he had not seen his brother in more than 15 years. When interviewed by law enforcement at the time of his arrest in October 2019, Sayler claimed he had last seen his brother in 2016 and before that in 2012.
In court today Sayler said, “I’m sorry that I caused all this problem. I shouldn’t have done it.”
In asking for the 25-month prison sentence, Assistant United States Attorney Benjamin Diggs noted that the ultimate loss to Social Security was likely more than $500,000, but records only exist from as far back as 1998. “The fraud loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars reflects the fact that this crime involves not an isolated incident of dishonesty or a brief lapse in judgment during a difficult period, but rather a separate decision to steal, month after month, for nearly 30 years, resulting in hundreds of separate acts of theft,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.
“Misusing Social Security benefits intended for another person is a Federal crime —one we will continue to aggressively pursue,” said Gail S. Ennis, Inspector General for the Social Security Administration. “I want to thank our law enforcement partners for joining us in this investigation and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecuting this case.”
The Clark County Sheriff’s Office remains interested in hearing from anyone who has information on Jarvis Sayler and his disappearance.
The case was investigated by the Social Security Office of Inspector General (SSA-OIG), Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) as part of the Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force in Seattle. Investigative assistance was also provided by the FBI and Sheriff’s Offices for Clark County, Cowlitz County, and Kitsap County.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Benjamin Diggs.
Press contact for the U.S. Attorney’s Office is Communications Director Emily Langlie at (206) 553-4110 or Emily.Langlie@usdoj.gov.