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Court: SSDI benefits reviewer was collecting SSDI

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From 2007 to 2008, the Social Security Administration (SSA) employed a Social Security benefits authorizer who, in 1996, was found by the SSA to be incapable of performing any meaningful work.

U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett, a judge in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore, sentenced the former SSA worker, Christopher George Perry, to two years in prison and three years of supervised release in a ruling issued Thursday.

U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein is welcoming the sentence.

“Christopher Perry defrauded the Social Security Administration and Medicare by collecting disability benefits for more than a decade although he was able to work, and he continued his scheme even while he was working as a Social Security Administration employee,” Rosenstein said in a statement.

Joseph Evans, Perry’s lawyer, said Perry’s sentence has been stayed pending his appeal.

A look at the facts of the case shows that “any effort to characterize this case as an example of a clever and avaricious SSA employee cheating the system is misleading,” Evans said in a statement. “We are confident of prevailing on appeal, resulting in the reversal of his conviction.”

Perry learned in the mid-1990s that he had AIDS, according to court documents.

The SSA determined in 1996 that Perry was permanently disabled as a result of AIDS, retroactive to 1995. That determination made Perry eligible for the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, which provides benefits payments for workers with serious disabilities.

“Under SSA rules, the finding of the permanence of a disability based on AIDS can never be changed until an actual cure for AIDS is found,” Perry’s lawyers said in a document filed with the court in August 2012.

Because a social worker completed Perry’s initial disability application while Perry was suffering from AIDS wasting disease, Perry did not realize that he was supposed to report future employment income, Evans said in the statement.

“Perry received experimental medication in the spring and summer of 1996, and was able to temporarily re-gain his health,” Evans said.

 Perry did receive a moderate level of pay for working in sales at department stores from the fall of 1996 until 1999, but he then re-lapsed, Evans said.

SSA employees already had noticed that Perry was working by the late 1990s, but the SSA never contacted Perry or stopped his payments, and the SSA actually increased Perry’s SSDI payments at one point expressly because Perry was working, Evans said.

In 2004, the SSA asked Evans to participate in the Ticket to Work program, a program for SSDI beneficiaries who are interested in returning to work, and he used that program to attend college, Evans said.

Perry lived a modest lifestyle, and he did not enrich himself at the public’s expense, Evans said.

In June 2007, the SSA hired Perry to be a benefits authorizer. He earned $40,000 to $53,000 per year, and his job description included responsibility for reviewing SSDI applications and processing overpayment assessments for claimants who returned to work, the lawyers for SSA said.

Lawyers for the SSA said Perry failed to comply with SSDI program rules requiring him to report his employment to SSA or Medicare

In September 2012, a jury found Perry guilty of Social Security fraud, federal health benefit program fraud and health care fraud.

Evans said Perry did not intentionally violate program rules.

When Perry began working for the SSDI program, “he was under the impression that he was entitled to receive 12 months of SSDI benefits while working regardless of the amount of employment income for that 12-month period,” Evans said. “He received and negotiated 12 SSDI  payments while employed at SSA. He received an additional 11 SSDI checks, but none of them were ever negotiated.”

While the case was at the pretrial stage, Perry’s lawyers called for the judge to dismiss the case, arguing that the government had not specified when most of the alleged crimes had occurred, had ignored the effect of statutes of limitations, had ignored the complexity and vagueness of SSDI work rules, and were punishing Perry even though Perry sincerely believed that he was eligible for the benefits he had received.

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