A man who continued to collect his mother’s Social Security benefits for almost two decades after she died has been ordered to repay the federal government.
Leslie Eugene Clay, 57, who lives alone and works part-time at a Medford hardware store, was sentenced in U.S. District Court to house arrest, probation and restitution amounting to $202,019 after previously admitting to a felony charge of embezzlement and concealment of government funds for close to 19 years after his mother died.
Clay’s mother, who had been collecting widow’s benefits since 1985, died in Oklahoma Oct. 7, 1997, according to court documents filed in the case. Though Clay notified the state of her death, he never notified the Social Security Administration, which continued to issue payments through March 2016.
The SSA began an investigation in 2016 after noticing that his mother’s Medicaid benefits had gone unused since 1997, despite the Social Security payments continuing.
Clay would deposit the checks into a bank account shared between him and his mother, then drew from the account.
In court Thursday, Clay told U.S. District Judge Anne Aiken that he believed the payments were for both of them at first, but never said anything.
“I know what I did was wrong, and I am sorry,” Clay said.
Clay said his mother spoke of “survivor benefits” to which he’d be entitled for several months after she died. He said he “did question it” when the payments kept coming, but ultimately spent the money.
U.S. attorneys and federal public defender Brian Butler both sought a six-month house arrest sentence on grounds that Clay has health conditions that include two bad knees and a hip-replacement surgery slated for next week.
Aiken told Clay the case “really is unseemly.”
“There’s just no excuse,” Aiken said. “There are people who need those benefits.”
Butler said that because Clay must repay Social Security, he likely won’t receive his own benefits, or at least not his full benefits, which Butler described as a significant hardship considering his client’s health.
Aiken ordered Clay to pay 10 percent of his income, or at least $50 a month, toward the restitution figure. Social Security will likely recoup only a small portion of what’s owed, as it would take more than 336 years to repay the full amount at that rate.
When she pressed Clay as to how he could afford his hip surgery, he said he qualified for state-funded insurance through AllCare Health because of his income.
“You’re lucky you’re able to have this surgery,” Aiken said.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.