A Buffalo, New York man has pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the Social Security Administration (SSA) concerning his eligibility to receive disability benefits. The man engaged in Social Security fraud by knowingly and illegitimately claiming benefits while out of the country for extended periods of time. (While Buffalo are usually free to roam, this Buffalo man should not have.) Unlike other government benefits, Supplementary Security Income (SSI) benefits are not eligible to be claimed if a recipient leaves the country for an extended period of 30 days or more.
Today’s fraudster was notified on two occasions of his obligation to report any out of country travel that lasted longer than 30 days. He broke the rules once, then did it again about three years later. (He blatantly declined to heed either of those warnings.)
In a Facebook conversation with his father, the man demonstrably showed that he was intentionally engaging in Social Security fraud. After his father questioned how his son’s finances were holding up, the son, who was overseas at the time replied, “Life is cheaper here but I will lose the SSI eventually if I stay here because they will find out that I am out of the country.” (Here’s a tip to any aspiring fraudsters out there – you probably want to avoid voluntarily incriminating yourself over social media.)
According to border crossing records, the man resided outside of the country for approximately five months in 2013 and subsequently neglected to mention that fact to the SSA. Then, he continued to flaunt his disregard for the law, leaving the country for another five-and-a-half months in 2014. (He travelled to Morocco, Turkey, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and France, while collecting $6,400 in undue benefits he did not deserve.) By pleading guilty to the charge of making a false statement to the SSA, the fraudster now faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. (Unfortunately for him, that probably complicates any future travel plans.)
Curiously, the investigation into the Buffalo man’s misconduct did not begin as a fraud investigation, but as terrorism. The fraudster’s Facebook page caught the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) after he posted a photo depicting a couple dressed in military garb and holding weapons, with the caption, “Husband and wife fighting for Islam. The most beautiful photos I have ever seen.” This, combined with trips to Yemen and a Facebook friendship with a man already under suspicion by terrorism investigators, was enough to set off alarm bells at the FBI. Although terrorism charges were never brought against him, the attention from federal investigators uncovered his Social Security fraud plot.
Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on a press release entitled, “NEW YORK MAN PLEADS GUILTY TO MAKING FALSE STATEMENT TO SSA,” published by the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General on September 18, 2017.
BUFFALO, N.Y.— Acting U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr., announced today that Ari Elias Baum, 32, of Buffalo, N.Y., pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the Social Security Administration (SSA) concerning his eligibility to receive disability benefits before Senior U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny. The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan P. Cantil, who is handling the case, stated that in 2010, the defendant’s Social Security benefits were discontinued after it was determined Baum was outside the United States for a period exceeding 30 consecutive days. In December 2010 and again in March 2013, Baum was advised of his obligation to report to the SSA if he was outside the United States for 30 or more consecutive days.