By Sean O’Sullivan
WILMINGTON – A Harrington man who was improperly collecting a deceased relative’s Social Security benefits for 28 years was sentenced to 60 days in jail Wednesday by a federal judge.
Prosecutors had asked for at least a year in jail for 61-year-old Albert G. Spencer III while defense attorneys asked for a sentence of probation, citing Spencer’s age and ill health.
In a memo to the court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Hall noted that Spencer had been forging the name of his wife’s deceased aunt - Dorothy Hendricks - on social security checks every month since mid-1982. Prosecutors estimate that over the 28- year fraud, Spencer improperly collected $166,886.20 and had he not been confronted about it last year, likely would have continued.
According to court papers, Spencer and his family moved in with Hendricks in her Baltimore home sometime in the 1970s and she died in June 1982.
Over the next three decades, Hall stated that Spencer kept accepting the checks sent to Hendricks and cashing them, even filing a change of address for the deceased Hendricks from Maryland to Delaware after Spencer moved to Harrington.
In Nov. 2010, prosecutors state that Spencer attempted to get direct deposit for Hendricks’ checks into his own account.
Kimberlynn Reeves, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney’s office, said Spencer was caught in Dec. 2010 as part of the Social Security Administration’s routine check on those over 100 who are still receiving benefits. Hendricks would have been 104 this year, according to prosecutors.
Assistant Federal Defender Luis Ortiz argued in court papers for a probationary sentence, citing Spencer’s age and physical condition. He described Spencer as a man who has “tried very hard to take care of all the family members who live in his home.”
In a sentencing memo, Ortiz said Spencer, who had worked in the automotive industry, regrets his “foolish” actions but said he did it to “help out with food and clothing” for people in his household. In addition to his wife, Spencer’s widowed, disabled daughter and her two teenage sons live with Spencer, Ortiz wrote.
Ortiz wrote that Spencer is disabled and has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and a serious heart condition, which required four-way bypass surgery in 2009.
Ortiz also claimed that Spencer was able to commit his “simple” fraud with ease in that he “made little effort to conceal his actions” over the years and he changed addresses and bank accounts several times “without being questioned.”
U.S. District Judge Sue L. Robinson also ordered Spencer to pay $37,500 restitution to the government.
Reeves said prosecutors were satisfied with the outcome in that it sends a message that you can’t fraudulently cash social security checks.
Ortiz could not be reached for comment.