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Detroit — A Detroit man has been sentenced to six months in prison for stealing more than $280,000 from the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, federal officials said Tuesday.

After serving his six months in prison, Walter Terrell Sr., 76, will spend three years on supervised release, U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said in a statement. Terrell must pay full restitution to the government.

U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh III handed down Terrell's sentence in his Detroit courtroom.

Federal officials said Terrell was cashing Social Security retirement insurance benefits for his mother after she died in the fall of 1981. The Social Security Administration was unaware of her death and continued to issue her monthly Treasury checks for 37 years.

Terrell forged his mother's signature on the checks and cashed them, they said.

During the same period, he also kept $35,649 in payments the Department of Veterans Affairs issued to his mother.

Federal investigators learned of Terrell's activity as part of a Social Security Administration effort to combat fraud in 2014. Under the program, officials contacted elderly beneficiaries who hadn't used their Medicare in three years or more. 

Terrell told officials his mother was on vacation when they contacted him.

He also arranged for someone to impersonate his mother on a subsequent phone call with the agency, which enabled him to maintain the ruse for three and a half years, according to officials.

The agency exposed the fraud after an audit identified a death certificate for Terrell’s mother.

cramirez@detroitnews.com
Twitter: @CharlesERamirez

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