A Schenectady woman admitted Monday to taking more than $20,000 worth of her dead mother’s Social Security benefits, which continued to be paid to her after she died, authorities said.
Deneice Brown, 48, admitted in Schenectady County Court to taking the money from her mother’s account from December 2009 to December 2011.
Brown, who has no criminal record, pleaded guilty to one count of fourth-degree grand larceny, a felony. She is to receive five years’ probation at her sentencing in July, and be ordered to repay the money she took.
Brown’s mother died in December 2009 at a home in Massachusetts, prosecutor Katie McCutcheon said. The mother had her Social Security benefits deposited directly into her bank account, which was solely in her name.
After her mother’s passing, Brown started using her mother’s account and in some cases even signed her mother’s name to checks, McCutcheon said.
Over the two-year period, she was accused of taking just under $21,000 in benefits that should have stopped with her mother’s death.
Brown said she tried to notify the Social Security Administration of her mother’s passing shortly after the death, McCutcheon said, but there was no record of that being done. Brown also claimed to have notified another company, but that company also had no record of her having done so, McCutcheon said.
Regardless of whether she tried to stop the payments, McCutcheon said, Brown continued to take the money over the next two years. “Even if she notified them, that’s all the more reason she was aware that those benefits should have been stopping,” she added.
Eventually, the benefits were stopped through an agency investigation, though McCutcheon was not sure what triggered the probe. Brown was charged a year later, in December 2012.
McCutcheon also noted there was an incorrect number on the mother’s death certificate, which may have complicated efforts to connect the death with the benefits by other means.
A spokesman for the Social Security Administration said Monday he couldn’t comment on the individual case. But in general, he said, two of the most common ways the agency hears about deaths are calls from family members and letters from funeral directors.
The administration also hears of deaths through nursing homes and banks. Sometimes the post office will return someone’s check, which itself creates an alert to investigate.
As to how investigators zeroed in on Brown as the person taking the funds, McCutcheon said there was circumstantial evidence, including paid bills, that led them to her.
“You can tell a lot from somebody’s bank statements, the types of checks that are written,” she said.
Prosecutors made the plea offer, noting that Brown is 48 years old and has no criminal history. She was also willing to accept responsibility prior to an indictment, McCutcheon said.
Brown is represented by attorney Joseph Litz. He later pointed to his client’s contention that she notified the Social Security Administration.
“Our position was that we provided notification,” he said.
But he also noted that his client has now admitted to taking the money.
The plea was taken by Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago.