Greenbelt, Maryland – Sonya Bannister Burford, age 53, of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, pleaded guilty on May 5, 2021, to the federal charge of theft of government property, for stealing $322,938 in Social Security benefits to which she was not entitled.
The guilty plea was announced by Acting United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Jonathan F. Lenzner; Special Agent in Charge Michael McGill of the Social Security Administration (SSA) – Office of Inspector General (OIG), Philadelphia Field Division; and Special Agent in Charge Rico Medina of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) – OIG.
According to her guilty plea, Burford’s husband, who was receiving SSA Disability Insurance benefits, died on August 30, 1996. Upon his death, Burford failed to disclose to SSA that he had died and SSA continued to make monthly benefits payments. Between September 1996 and January 2020, Burford received and spent $322,938 in benefits paid to her husband after his death to which she was not entitled.
As detailed in her plea agreement, SSA paid the disability payments for her husband through direct deposit to a joint account held in Burford‘s and her husband’s name. After his death, Burford accessed the funds primarily through cash withdrawals or through the purchase of gift cards in large amounts at grocery stores. Burford also used the funds to make retail purchases and to pay for living expenses, and wrote checks to herself.
As part of her plea agreement, Burford will be required to forfeit and pay restitution in the full amount of the loss, which the parties agree is $322,938.
Burford faces a maximum of 10 years in federal prison for theft of government property. U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte has scheduled sentencing for August 5, 2021.
Acting United States Attorney Jonathan F. Lenzner commended the SSA OIG and WMATA OIG for their work in the investigation. Mr. Lenzner thanked Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael F. Davio, who is prosecuting the case.
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