Casey Unveils Legislation to Close Loopholes that Allowed Philly Basement Case Suspects to Evade Police for Years

Basement Case Suspects Evaded Capture By Bilking Teens, Disabled Adults Out of Social Security Benefits

PHILADELPHIA, PA – U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) today unveiled legislation that would close the loopholes in the Social Security system that allowed the suspects in the Philadelphia basement case to bilk their captives of their Social Security benefits and avoid police for years.

Senator Casey’s bill would finally allow the Social Security Administration (SSA) to access existing government databases that identify violent criminals who would not be eligible to serve as representative payees - the status the suspects in the Philadelphia basement-case used to bilk their captives of their benefits. This bill would also increase the number of SSA fraud investigators so that every person who applies to be a representative payee goes through a criminal background check.

"The horrors that took place in the Tacony basement case are deeply troubling, and we must do everything we can to ensure this never, ever happens again," Senator Casey said. "This legislation will ensure that the Social Security Administration has the resources and the tools it needs to stop another situation like this in its tracks."

A 2004 law, The Social Security Protection Act, contained a provision barring individuals who have been imprisoned for more than a year from becoming representative payees, who are eligible to cash someone else's check. The 2004 law authorized the Social Security Administration to identify those ineligible felons, but a 2010 report by the agency’s Inspector General showed that SSA staff routinely failed to perform thorough criminal background checks and that the agency’s self-reporting program was unreliable.

According to the SSA, there are two factors that prevent the agency from checking the criminal background of every representative payee applicant. First, the agency is unable to access government databases that contain criminal background information; and second, the SSA also does not have enough staff to perform a background check on every applicant.

Senator Casey’s bill would give the SSA access to government databases like the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system and increase the number of fraud investigators at the agency. The legislation will finally give the SSA the tools and resources required to perform a criminal background check on every person who applies to serve as a representative payee.

For years, suspects in the Philadelphia basement case were allowed to collect Social Security checks on behalf of children, teens and the adults with disabilities, even though they would have failed a routine criminal background check.  If enacted at the time the primary suspect applied to be a representative payee, Senator Casey’s bill would have ensured the denial of her application.