Schenectady County

Singing fraudster gets prison term

A Niskayuna woman being sentenced Thursday after admitting to illegally taking more than $100,000 in

A Niskayuna woman being sentenced Thursday after admitting to illegally taking more than $100,000 in state and federal benefits asked a judge for local jail time or probation but got one to three years in prison.

Adriel McNair, 48, had prospects of coming up with part of the restitution, as her 1980s singing group was getting back together, her attorney Joseph Litz told the court.

McNair herself apologized to the court for taking the money, saying she was a good mother, and asked for the opportunity to take advantage of her business opportunities to sing again.

Acting Schenectady County Court Judge Richard Giardino, though, noted the plea itself was a generous one. Had she been convicted on the original charges, she faced up to 15 years.

“I don’t question your abilities as a mother,” Giardino said, “but the problem is, it’s over $100,000. I think one to three years is a considerable break, since there’s no restitution [paid].”

Giardino had previously said he would consider probation, had she come up with a portion of the restitution. He targeted $50,000 in restitution as a figure where he would consider probation. The money was expected to come through a sale of a home. But no money came.

Giardino sentenced McNair to one to three years in state prison, the maximum stipulated in the plea deal.

McNair, of Troy-Schenectady Road, was arrested in August 2009, accused of receiving a total of $106,000 in state and federal benefits she wasn’t entitled to over the course of nearly three years.

She was accused of illegally receiving Medicaid-Supplemental Security Income benefits from September 2006 to June 2009 that totaled $30,385; $9,027 in food stamp benefits; and $67,388 in Supplemental Security Income payments for herself and two children, according to papers filed previously in court.

The period relates to the time McNair owned two homes; the second home made her ineligible for some of the benefits, prosecutors said.

McNair has a total of six children. They and other family members attended Thursday’s proceedings.

McNair also used two valid Social Security numbers to pull off the fraud, prosecutors have said. She allegedly used more lax security measures during the mid-1990s to apply for and receive another Social Security number under the name Adriel Wright.

After the court proceeding, Litz identified the 1980s musical group to which McNair belonged as “The Cover Girls.” He also showed a publicity photo from his file that appeared to resemble McNair.

The Gazette pointed out none of group’s members were named McNair, though one — Sunshine Wright — had the same last name as Adriel Wright. Litz later confirmed that McNair was Sunshine Wright. That was her stage name.

A Wikipedia page about the group indicates that Sunshine Wright was an original member of the New York City-based group from 1987 to 1988.

The Daily Gazette could not independently confirm that McNair was a member of the group.

A message left at a phone number linked to the current incarnation of The Cover Girls was not returned Thursday.

In his lengthy argument for his client receiving probation, Litz told Giardino that his client was the victim of domestic violence, suffered from mental health problems and had childhood issues. Each provided insight into why the incidents occurred, Litz said.

She needed probation supervision, not prison, to address those problems and to balance punishment and making the state and federal programs whole.

Litz and McNair told the court that she had contracts for the group’s performances that she couldn’t live up to if she went to prison.

Giardino responded he believed she had more than enough time to come up with a portion of the total $106,000 owed — 14 months since she pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree grand larceny.

“A signed contract is a signed contract,” Giardino told McNair, after noting how much time she had to come up with the restitution. “It’s not money in your pocket.”

Prosecutors have not said what led investigators to McNair, but said once they started asking questions, she tried to throw them off.

McNair called investigators as Wright, saying that it was Wright who owned the properties. Also as Wright, she told investigators that McNair was a tenant and a battered woman hiding out, prosecutors have said.

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