Baltimore Man Sentenced to Federal Prison for Spending Deceased Mother’s Social Security Benefit Checks for More Than 20 Years

Baltimore, Maryland – U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow sentenced Wardell Lester, Jr., age 66 of Baltimore, Maryland today to one year in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for theft of government property in connection with the theft of $223,655 in social security benefits intended for his mother.

The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek L. Barron and Special Agent in Charge Michael McGill of the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General, Philadelphia Field Division (SSA OIG).

According to his plea agreement, from September 1997 to January 2018, Lester stole monthly Social Security Retirement Insurance benefit payments from the Social Security Administration intended for his mother. Lester failed to notify the Social Security Administration that his mother had died in September 1997 and falsely reported that he spent the funds on her behalf. As a result of this offense, Lester personally obtained approximately $223,655 from the Social Security Administration to which he was not entitled.

As the son and representative payee of his mother, Lester was charged with spending his mother’s Social Security retirement benefits on her behalf and was required to file annual reports that documented transactions using those funds. Each year, Lester provided falsified reports that detailed how he spent the funds on food, housing, and personal items.  In 2012, Lester elected to receive payments by direct deposit to an account in his name. Records from the account show that Lester would withdraw virtually all of the funds by ATM at the beginning of each month.

As stated in his plea agreement, in an interview with SSA OIG agents on January 11, 2019, Lester admitted to spending his mother’s benefits on drugs and living expenses. Lester further admitted to falsifying Social Security Administration benefit accounting forms. At the end of the interview, Lester gave a written statement in which he apologized for the spending of the funds, but Lester continued to spend the benefit payments until SSA terminated them in May 2019.

United States Attorney Erek L. Barron praised the SSA OIG for their work in the investigation. Mr. Barron thanked Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael F. Davio, who prosecuted the case.

 

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