Baltimore, Maryland – Cheikh Ahmet Tidiane Cisse, age 45, of Baltimore, Maryland, pleaded guilty today to federal charges of theft of government property and aggravated identity theft, in connection with a scheme in which Cisse filed fraudulent claims for Social Security benefits using fictitious identities and the identities of actual individuals, and attempted to collected over $236,000.
The guilty plea was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur and Gail S. Ennis, Inspector General for the Social Security Administration.
“SSA possesses the most sensitive and personal information for almost every person in this country, and SSA employees have a fundamental duty to protect that information,” said Inspector General Ennis. “We take any violation of the public trust very seriously, and we will continue to work with SSA to identify and root out suspected employee fraud. I want to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office for its support of this investigation, which resulted in today’s plea.”
Cisse was employed by the Social Security Administration (SSA) as a Claims Specialist in SSA’s Office of International Operations. Cisse admitted that between July 2018 and March 2019, he filed fictitious claims for benefits using stolen identities and identity documents he obtained through the course of his employment with SSA in order to steal or attempt to steal over $236,000 from SSA.
According to his plea agreement, as part of his job, Cisse was responsible for reviewing the identity documents of social security claimants living abroad, such as passports, marriage certificates, and identity cards. Cisse then created new, fictitious identities in SSA’s database, often using information from the foreign identity documents he reviewed, which were issued social security numbers (SSNs). Cisse used the fictitious identities to file fraudulent claims for social security divorced spouse survivor’s benefits against actual deceased individuals, directing the benefits payments to debit cards or bank accounts he opened in the names of the fictitious identities using the identity documents he obtained through his employment. Cisse sometimes provided his home address for that of the fictitious claimants, but also provided an address in Quebec, Canada, that corresponded to a mail forwarding service to which he subscribed, making it appear as if the fictitious claimants lived abroad. Through this mail forwarding service, Cisse received mail associated with the scheme, including genuine social security cards in the names of the fictitious identities and benefits payments.
As detailed in the plea agreement, in one instance, when SSA stopped payment on the $10,734 back payment for one of the fraudulent claims due to suspected fraud, Cisse contacted SSA’s payment center and falsely relayed that the purported beneficiary had called inquiring about the whereabouts of the payment, causing the SSA payment center to issue the back payment by direct deposit. Cisse received a total of approximately $25,916 as a result of this fraudulent claim, which he spent through cash withdrawals and retail purchases.
In total, Cisse submitted at least nine fraudulent claims in stolen and fictitious identities, causing SSA to pay approximately $87,000 in fraudulent claims through direct deposit, issue approximately $46,000 in checks that were never negotiated, and authorize approximately $103,000 in claims that SSA halted before payments were issued. Cisse personally received and spent $82,047 as a result of the scheme.
As part of his plea agreement, Cisse will be required to pay restitution of $83,247 and forfeit $30,000 seized from Cisse’s home and pay a money judgment in the amount of $51,107.
Cisse faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison for theft of government property; and a mandatory two years in prison, consecutive to any other sentence imposed, for aggravated identity theft. U.S. District Judge George L. Russell, III has scheduled sentencing for April 19, 2021, at 11:00 a.m.
United States Attorney Robert K. Hur commended the SSA Office of Inspector General for their work in the investigation. Mr. Hur thanked Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael F. Davio, who is prosecuting the case.
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