Milwaukee man spent dead mom's government checks

The I-Team exposes his crimes

His mother died and then this Milwaukee man found a way to cash in on her death.  The I-Team exposed how he managed to steal thousands in taxpayer money, for years.

Michael Hughes' mother died in May of 2009, but he never reported her death to the Social Security Administration.  According to federal documents Hughes shared the details of his crime with investigators after getting caught, confessing he took over his mom's bank account when she died and then continued to receive her benefits.

Hughes told investigators he used the money "to pay bills and other expenses."  In a written statement Hughes admitted this had "gone on a long time."  Over the course of four-and-a-half years he spent $37,455.

Andrew Cannarsa, Communications Director with the Office of the Inspector General, pointed out this type of fraud loss can add up.  The OIG investigates cases of suspected Social Security fraud.

Some of those cases are picked up by a death alert tracking system, which looks for inconsistencies in the system.  That is what lead the OIG to Hughes, and in 2013 his mother's benefits were stopped. 

This type of crime has steadily increased since 2006.  The SSA reports almost $93 million in fraud loss through 2016, but now the agency is also using Medicare data to track potential crimes. 

"When a beneficiary turns 90 they'll check the Medicare usage as a way to verify that the person is still alive," Cannarsa told us. 

But not every flagged case turns out to be illegal.  Karan Stewart reported her mom's death.

"I thought they would stop because they knew she was deceased," Stewart said.

But the money kept coming into her mother's account.  Stewart's mom died in 2015 but her death certificate was filled with errors.

"They had the wrong address, they had the wrong birth date,” she said. “So when I took that into social security they couldn't validate that as my mother."

So every month Stewart had to purchase a cashier's check and take it to a local Social Security office to return the money. It took more than a year to get the corrected death certificate. 

Stewart commented all that money coming in was tempting.

"Oh don't think I wasn't tempted,” she said. “I not only had my bills I still some bills that she had left."

In the case of Michael Hughes, he claims at first he didn't notice the benefits. Hughes told investigators he eventually realized the Social Security money was still being deposited.

Hughes will be sentenced at the end of May.   

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