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Justice News

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

Friday, June 14, 2013

Seattle Man Sentenced to Prison for Defrauding Social Welfare Programs

Defendant Claimed He Was Disabled And Unable To Work While Running Landscaping Company

            A Seattle man who operated a successful landscaping and hauling company was sentenced to prison today for defrauding benefit programs of more than $60,000, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan.  Over five years, VERNAL LEMUEL MORRIS, 59, defrauded Social Security, the Seattle Housing Authority and the federal food stamp program.  MORRIS repeatedly told welfare agencies he was so disabled he could not bathe or dress himself.  In fact, MORRIS owned and operated B&V Lawn and Hauling, with as many as six employees, a website and trucks.  MORRIS was responsible for the company’s advertising, sales, customer relations, and for the supervision of the employees.  U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour sentenced MORRIS to five months in prison, three years of supervised release and $60,726 in restitution.

            According to records filed in the case, MORRIS first applied for Social Security Disability payments in August 2004 claiming he has a psychological disability.  The claim was rejected, and MORRIS appealed to an Administrative Law Judge.  MORRIS claimed he was unable to bathe, that he could not stand for more than 20 minutes, and that he was afraid to leave his home.  Based on these claims the judge found MORRIS eligible for benefits and he collected $31,313 in disability benefits from October 2007 to August 2012.  Over those years MORRIS repeatedly represented to the Social Security Administration that he had difficulty dressing and bathing himself and could not drive.

            In addition to the Social Security Fraud, MORRIS defrauded the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) by fraudulently obtaining rent subsidy funds provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  MORRIS applied for housing in January 2009, and collected $21,284 in benefits by claiming he was not employed and had no income other than the Social Security benefits.  There is a 6,000 person waiting list for the SHA subsidies, and MORRIS’ fraud kept other truly needy people from obtaining subsidized housing.  Finally, MORRIS fraudulently obtained $8,192 in benefits from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) for food and medical care.  Between May 2007 and October 2011 he falsely claimed he had no income or assets in order to obtain food stamps and medical coupons.

            In asking for a prison sentence prosecutors wrote to the court that MORRIS “stole resources intended for the neediest members of society….  By fraudulently collecting benefits he was not entitled to receive, VERNAL MORRIS literally deprived a needy family of a decent place to live.  Furthermore, persons who feign disabilities, as VERNAL MORRIS did, require social agencies to spend their resources investigating disabilities instead of delivering benefits.  Fake disability claims also require genuinely disabled persons to undergo the indignity of examinations geared to determine whether they are faking their claim as well.”

            The case was investigated by the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General (SSA-OIG) and was prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Seth Wilkinson as part of a partnership venture between the Social Security Administration Office of General Counsel and the United States Attorney’s Office.

Updated March 23, 2015