Rochester woman sentenced in theft of $300K

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A Rochester woman was sentenced to 12 months and one day in prison for stealing more than $300,000 from the Social Security Administration by accepting federal benefit payments for her mother after her death.

Sandra Sarnowski, 65, was sentenced Thursday by U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith in Detroit, U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade said in a statement on Friday.

According to court records, in 2013 during the implementation of the Centenarian Project — a Social Security initiative designed to fight fraud by reviewing the benefit records of individuals when they turn 100 — the federal agency discovered that Sarnowski’s mother had died in 1998.

A fraud referral was then made to the agency’s Office of the Inspector General, McQuade said.

At the time of her death, Sarnowski’s mother was receiving monthly retirement insurance benefits. However, the agency was never properly notified of her death, McQuade said, so the monthly deposits continued to be made into a joint account controlled by Sarnowski.

These improper payments were made for about 15 years and totaled $308,556.00, officials said, and Sarnowski kept the money for herself.

The court ordered Sarnowski to pay full restitution to the government with interest.

Sarnowski has agreed to forfeit a vacation property she owns in Glen Arbor with any funds obtained from the sale of the property to be applied toward her restitution obligation.