68-year-old widow found not guilty on fraud accusation

A federal jury on Feb. 3 found a woman not guilty of accusations that she cheated the U.S. government out of $400,000 in benefits. The 68-year-old widow allegedly received Medicaid and Supplemental Social Security benefits for approximately 20 years while there was almost $900,000 in cash in a safe deposit box in the possession of her family. The problem is that government benefits programs are intended for individuals who are either disabled or elderly with little or no income.

Federal prosecutors had accused her of fraud, claiming that she lied to obtain the benefits. Specific charges included mail fraud, false statements regarding health care, and Social Security fraud.

Her attorney told the jury, however, that the money in the safe deposit box did not belong to the defendant, but rather to a man to whom she had been "married" to in the Roma ethnic group tradition. Since their wedding was not legally recognized in Oregon, the money was not her property, although it may have ultimately been the property of her children.

The man she regarded as her husband apparently died in late 1990, and he left his cash savings in bags at the couple's homes. One of his daughters later placed the funds in a bank safe deposit box in 1998 under an assumed name.

The money was discovered when the bank opened the safe deposit box, and the federal government seized $250,000 for taxes allegedly owed on the funds. The rest was ultimately paid to the couple's daughter, who had initially placed the funds in the safe deposit box. It was the discovery of the money which led to the filing of the criminal charges against the widow.

Fraud charges are very serious, and those accused of this crime should not hesitate to obtain solid representation to defend their rights.

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