Tarrytown Man Sentenced in Social Security Disability Scheme

March 10,2009
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As experienced Social Security disability attorneys who have represented thousands of clients in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, we do everything within our power to fully and vigorously assist clients in seeking disability benefits. What we will not do, however, is help a client commit fraud. Not only is it illegal and unethical to try to pull one over on the Social Security Administration (SSA), it can also land you in some pretty hot water. One would-be Social Security disability claimant recently learned this the hard way.
Guillermo Hernandez, 50, was recently sentenced to three years in jail for using another man’s identity to obtain more than $55,000 in Social Security disability benefits over the course of six years.
Lohud.com’s Timothy O’Connor reports that “[t]he scheme was uncovered in late 2005, when [Guillermo] Henriquez Pichardo complained to the Social Security Administration after being informed of the benefits that he had neither sought nor received.” The SSA immediately stopped paying the monthly benefits and the agency’s Inspector General’s office opened an investigation.
It appears that Mr. Hernandez obtained a false Social Security card bearing Mr. Henriquez Pichardo’s name and Social Security number, which he used to obtain a New York driver’s license. Investigators noticed that the man in the license photo, a copy of which was included in Hernandez’s false benefits claim, was not Mr. Henriquez Pichardo. In July, Hernandez plead guilty to mail fraud and aggravated identity theft charges.
Given our decades of experience in the Social Security disability claims process, we are well aware that the SSA often gets it wrong when it comes to reviewing benefits claims. In fact, the SSA initially denies the majority of claims filed, including many with merit. We are also well aware that the SSA doesn’t take kindly to getting it wrong the other way – that is, paying benefits to someone who’s ineligible – particularly when the mistake is a result of claimant fraud. Last year alone, the SSA’s Inspector General’s office “received over 103,000 allegations of fraud, effected over 1,300 criminal prosecutions, and obtained a return of over $410 million in investigative accomplishments, comprised of over $81 million in SSA recoveries, restitutions, fines, settlements, and judgments, and over $328 million in projected SSA savings,” according to its 2013 budget report.

This is not to say that legitimately disabled persons should not seek Social Security disability benefits. Despite Mr. Hernandez’s example, a person who believes that he or she will be unable to work for a year or more should not hesitate to file a benefits claim in order to get vital financial assistance in what is often a trying time. An experienced disability lawyer can assist in this process by gathering the evidence necessary to prove the claim – including medical and employment records – and follow up with SSA staff to ensure that it has the information necessary to rule on the claim. Unlike so-called “claim representatives” the lawyer can also represent the client in a federal appeal if necessary.