For nearly 20 years after she died, death benefit government checks meant for their mother kept rolling in to a bank account, still controlled by her two living daughters.
The death benefit checks, which an averaged about $20,000 per year since 2001, totaled over $350,000 when government investigators finally caught on.
The ruse came to an end earlier this year when investigators for the Social Security Administration noticed there hadn’t been any medical benefit payments for the sisters’ mother in nearly two decades.
The two sisters, Patricia Lee Kendall, 66, and Peggy Lee Larue, 63, appeared Wednesday in Tulsa federal court to plead guilty to a two-count indictment linked to illegally receiving death benefits meant for their mother.
Kendall and Larue, both of Sapulpa, admitted they should have notified authorities about their mother’s death when it occurred Dec. 23, 2000, a move which would have stopped the death benefit checks.
“I knew I wasn’t entitled to the money,” Larue told the judge, a statement echoed by her sister.
A grand jury indicted Kendall and Larue July 10 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, alleging the pair had illegally accepted over $224,237 in Social Security death benefit income and $129,765 in U.S. Department of Defense military retirement funds, meant for their mother. The sisters’ father, a military veteran, preceded their mother in death, triggering the death benefit payments to the mother.
The two sisters face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count upon sentencing, which is set for Dec. 4.
In addition to facing prison and a fine, the two sisters also are subject to a criminal forfeiture money judgment totaling $354,002, which is the combined total of illegally received in death benefits.
U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell, who accepted the sisters’ guilty pleas, wondered aloud why it took so long for government officials to catch the missed death.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Proctor said he wasn’t sure, but he noted that Social Security Administration officials had stepped up fraud detection efforts in recent years, which included investigating cases where no medical benefits had been paid out.
Kendall and Larue remained free on their own personal recognizance pending resolution of the case.
Tulsa Police Sgt. Jennifer Murphy talks about the Tulsa Police new reading program and school supply handout at the Darlington Apartments.