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Philly Captive Suspects Collected Benefits On Behalf of Teens Even Though ‘04 Law Blocked Ex-Cons From Doing Just That

In 2010, Social Security Watchdog Revealed that Agency Wasn’t Enforcing Collection Provisions on Ex-Cons, But Agency Took No Action

Washington DC- In the wake of the shocking Philadelphia captive case where eight children and five adults with physical and intellectual disabilities were found to be abused and living in squalor, U.S. Senator Bob Casey is calling on the Social Security Administration (SSA) to finally crack down on a loophole that allowed the suspects to evade police for years.

As part of their scheme, the suspects in the Philadelphia captive case are alleged to have fraudulently collected Social Security benefits on behalf of those who had physical and intellectual disabilities and others. Reports allege that the suspects used the benefits for their own personal gain while the victims lived in squalor. In some instances, the captive case suspects stole the identities of others, collecting Social Security benefits on their behalf as well.

“The Philadelphia captive case is both saddening and disturbing on its own, but what’s worse is that we had the tools to catch these suspects and didn’t use them because those in charge of their protection were asleep at the switch,” Casey said. “We can never allow another group of individuals to go through what these victims have had to endure, it’s time the Social Security Administration step up and close this loophole.”

A 2004 law, The Social Security Protection Act of 2004, is designed to bar individuals who have been imprisoned for more than a year from becoming representative payees, those who cash someone else's check, but a 2010 report by the Social Security Administration’s Inspector General showed that the SSA was not enforcing the law. For years, suspects in the captive case were allowed to collect Social Security checks on behalf of the teens and the adults, even though they had spent more than a year behind bars. Enforcement of this provision by the SSA could have led to the capture of these suspects much sooner.

When someone applies to cash Social Security checks on behalf of another person they are supposed to answer a question on whether they've ever been convicted of an offense and imprisoned for more than a year. The 2010 report by the SSA watchdog showed that staff members do not perform background checks to determine if those applying to cash checks on another’s behalf have criminal records, and that self-reporting by applying individuals is unreliable.

In his letter to the Social Security Administration, Casey called on the agency to immediately begin following the 2004 law and start the process of checking criminal backgrounds for those applying to be representative payees. The full text of Casey’s letter to the Social Security Administration is below.

October 27, 2011

Honorable Michael J. Astrue
Social Security Administration

Dear Mr. Astrue:

I am writing to express serious concern with the Social Security Administration’s lack of oversight of those who are permitted to receive benefit checks on behalf of our most vulnerable citizens. 

The Social Security Administration’s Representative Payment Program intends to facilitate financial management for Social Security and SSI beneficiaries who are incapable of managing their payments.  To assist beneficiaries, representative payees are assigned responsibility for taking care of their needs.  The Social Security Protection Act of 2004 set restrictions on who can act as a representative payee.  Specifically, the law disqualifies an individual from collecting a check for someone else if he or she has been convicted of an offense resulting in more than one year of imprisonment.  

A recent high-profile case in Philadelphia suggests that the Social Security Administration has not implemented this much-needed safeguard.  Allegedly, eight children and five adults with physical and intellectual disabilities were held captive and abused in part to collect benefit checks.  One of the accused captors has a record of related gruesome crimes, having served prison time for starving a man to death in a closet.  Despite her record, the accused was permitted to collect benefit checks while apparently physically abusing those under her care.

It is the responsibility of the Social Security Administration to prevent representative payees from taking advantage of their beneficiaries.  I understand that current policy requires self-reporting by representative payees of disqualifying convictions.  This dangerous lack of oversight permits criminals to prey on our most vulnerable and must be addressed.  I ask you to close this loophole immediately and impose safeguards to better protect beneficiaries.  Such abuses must be made impossible moving forward.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.


Robert P. Casey, Jr.
United States Senator


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