A New Orleans woman who pocketed her father’s Social Security benefits for nearly a quarter of a century after his death pleaded guilty in federal court last week to theft of government funds.
Laverne Rose, a longtime office manager and secretary, received $282,403 in government money between her father’s death in 1990 and last year, when the Social Security Administration finally detected the fraud and stopped the payments, according to court documents.
In an interview Monday, Rose, 69, expressed remorse for continuing to accept her father’s benefits. She said she knew that it was illegal and has been struggling to keep her emotions in check since appearing in court. She is unsure whether she will go to prison.
“I’m sorry it happened,” said Rose, who works for the Algiers Charter School Association. “It’s a real unfortunate situation.”
Rose faces up to 10 years behind bars, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, though she likely would receive a far shorter term even if she doesn’t qualify for probation. She is scheduled to be sentenced May 13 by U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt.
Before and after his Dec. 10, 1990, death, Rose’s father, Walter Rose, received monthly Social Security retirement benefits wired to a bank account he held jointly with his daughter. Court documents say the Social Security Administration did not learn of the elder Rose’s death until “about February 2014.” Laverne Rose told Social Security investigators in June that she had spent all of the payments in question.
Asked whether she had failed to report her father’s death, Rose said she had, in fact, notified the government of her father’s passing.
“I had reported it, and I guess it wasn’t documented. After that, I just didn’t follow up on it anymore,” Rose said. The payments “were something I knew I wasn’t supposed to get.”
The Social Security Administration did not respond to a request for comment Monday on why the payments had continued for so many years.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite did not return a call seeking comment.
Rose’s case is hardly unique. Last year, a 70-year-old Arizona man was sentenced to six months in federal prison after he admitted receiving nearly $200,000 in Social Security benefits paid to his mother for 23 years after her death. The judge in that case said the defendant, Raymond O’Dell, deserved jail time in light of his “decades of criminal behavior.”
In 2012, Debra Fisher, of St. Tammany Parish, walked into the Slidell Police Department to confess that some two years had passed since her father died and that she was still using his Social Security benefits to pay her rent. Instead of reporting his death, she had cut off his hands with an X-Acto knife and stuffed his remains into an ice chest, which the authorities found tightly sealed with duct tape.
In attempting to explain her actions, Fisher told a detective that her father had been “the only one that had money coming in,” adding that she and her roommate would have been “out on the streets” had his death been discovered.
Fisher was sentenced to 10 years in prison after a jury found her guilty, among other counts, of stealing some $33,000 in Social Security checks — payments that continued to be deposited into her father’s account after his death.
The Social Security Administration’s inspector general released an audit about two years ago that found the agency had improperly paid some $31 million to more than 1,500 deceased beneficiaries.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.