Driven to Defraud

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What drives people to commit fraud? Some criminals, who are shaped by their environment and feel helpless to control their circumstances, are more likely to defraud because they feel like their situation is not their fault and they deserve the money or benefits they are going after. This explanation, coupled with a mental illness diagnosis may suffice for today’s fraudster. The Little Rock, Arkansas resident masterminded an elaborate Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) scheme that stole $250,000 in undeserved benefits across three states.

The woman in today’s case used stolen Social Security numbers (SSN) and birthdates to trick SNAP administrators in Utah, Louisiana and Texas into sending out food stamp benefit cards. She chose the benefit recipient addresses by using a real-estate application to find locations of unoccupied homes for sale across the three states. She requested that the SNAP electronic benefit cards be mailed to those addresses, then forwarded the mail to her Little Rock, Arkansas apartment.

Utah SNAP administrators became suspicious after discovering that several of the benefit cards issued in response to online applications were redeemed in Arkansas. (Each state must issue electronic benefit cards only to in-state residents. It would be very odd for a card issued in Utah to be used in Arkansas on a regular basis.)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture subsequently executed a search warrant for the woman’s home and discovered 17 bags containing hundreds of pieces of stolen personally identifiable information (PII). (She kept detailed information about other people’s SSNs and dates of birth in notebooks used to track her elaborate scheme. Some of the SSNs were real, and some were fabricated.) Investigators also found tax refund checks belonging to her neighbors in Little Rock. (She may not be invited to the next block party.)

The female fraudster went to great lengths to invent names for up to four children for many of the fake food stamp recipients. (This is so she could collect the maximum amount of benefits each month. More children equals more money.) The criminal’s descriptive notebooks provided personal information about the fake benefit recipients so she could intelligently discuss each family member with administrators who called about the applications for government assistance. (The woman, who got past state SNAP administrators with her lies, sold the electronic benefit cards to other people and sometimes used the cards for herself.)

After being arrested, the woman asked one of her four children living with her to use money from recently loaded electronic benefits cards to bail her out of jail and to hire an attorney to represent her. (In a recorded conversation with her daughter, she speculated that she would get probation and would be released to the state hospital because “I have that mental illness.”)

During the trial, it was revealed that the 41-year-old woman had been previously diagnosed with mental health conditions including bipolar disorder. Her attorney requested a 70-month sentence, which is below the recommended time behind bars for this type of crime. (The attorney argued that a shorter time behind bars would allow her to receive extensive in-prison mental health treatment without being too harsh. The prosecutor asked for a longer sentence to protect the public from committing future crimes.)

The deceptive woman with a 19-year criminal history pleaded guilty to 17 counts of wire fraud related to SNAP. When making his final decision, the judge factored in her mental health issues, previous suicide attempts and abuse she suffered as a child; however, he decided to sentence her to 10 years behind bars. She must also pay $245,000 in restitution.

The judge stated that he believed her mental health issues were driving the SNAP fraud scheme somewhat, but the fact that she carried out such an elaborate plan indicated that she was “bright and driven.” It’s too bad this woman couldn’t figure out how to use her skills to work a legitimate job.

Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on an article entitled, Judge sentences Little Rock woman for defrauding assistance program for poor familiesposted on arkansasonline.com on September 8, 2017.

A 41-year-old Little Rock woman’s 19-year criminal history weighed heavily against her Thursday at her sentencing for defrauding a government assistance program for poor families of about $250,000.

U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall said he considered Keashia Davis’ history of mental illness, suicide attempts and abuse suffered as a child in handing out a lower sentence than he had intended to give her, but that he felt she still deserved 10 years in prison — 15 months above the penalty range recommended by national sentencing guidelines — for defrauding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in Utah, Louisiana and Texas.

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Larry Benson
Larry Benson is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances for Revenue Discovery and Recovery at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. In this role, Benson is responsible for developing partnerships for the tax and revenue and child support enforcement verticals. He focuses on embedded companies that have a need for third-party analytics to enhance their current offerings.