From USA Today —
For more than a decade, Kendrick Gills lived off a dead man.
He stole more than $500,000 in benefits from a deceased relative over 14 years, tricking the government into thinking the man was alive and living with him.
When the feds caught on and showed up with questions, Gills broke down crying, claimed the relative was like a “father figure” to him, then came up with a wild cover story: He found his 90-year-old relative dead in the house, but his body disappeared that same day – either left in a ditch by a cousin or buried in a well behind a farmhouse.
The stories didn’t check out. Charges followed. To this day, a body has not been found.
In a case of trickery and thievery pending in Detroit federal court, Gills is among a growing number of targets who have come under the government’s radar in recent years for what prosecutors describe as a pervasive and costly crime: the theft of dead people’s benefits. These scammers have cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Last year alone, inspector general audits found that the Social Security Administration paid out more than $40 million to 500 dead people in just three states: Texas, Maryland and Michigan.
Metro Detroit was full of these scammers.
Over the last five years, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit says it has prosecuted more deceased payee fraud cases than almost any other region in the country, charging at least 40 people with collecting dead people’s benefits and investigating another 125 cases that were flagged in a 2018 audit. That’s about one person a month getting busted for a crime that now accounts for almost half of all Social Security fraud in the country, prosecutors say.
The Michigan defendants include:
- A Redford man who allegedly paid a homeless woman to pose as his dead mother when investigators came to his house to verify that his mom was still alive but bedridden – as he had claimed. David Budd Jr, 52, was indicted in May on charges he stole $97,000 in benefits meant for his late mother. His case is pending.
- A St. Clair man who pretended to be his dead mother in phone conversations with investigators, raising the pitch of his voice to sound more convincing so that he could continue collecting her Social Security checks. Frank Johnson, 69, pleaded guilty in April to stealing $174,609 in Social Security benefits. He faces 12-18 months in prison when he is sentenced on Oct. 22.
- A Ferndale mother who allegedly hid her son’s death from the government for 24 years, pretending at one point that her child was in Ecuador having surgery, then claiming that he had died there. She went so far as to ask whether the Social Security Administration would send her money to bring his body back to the U.S. when he had been dead for decades. Linda Wardlow, 69, pleaded guilty in August to stealing $292,000 in benefits meant for her late son. She will be sentenced in January and faces 3-4 years in prison.
- A Detroit man who took on his dead mom’s identity for 25 years. His name was Otis; hers was Iotis. The name similarities allowed him to sign her name on debit card slips and collect her benefits: $260,000 in total. He also used her debit card to make ATM purchases and shop at retailers. He was caught on camera and convicted by a jury of theft and lying. In 2017, at the age of 80, Otis Wilder of Detroit was sentenced to one year in prison.
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