By Attorney David Engler
The Philadelphia Enquirer reported December 9, 2011 on one of the nation’s most horrific example of abusing a ward or in Linda Weston’s case a “payee”. Weston is accused of imprisoning intellectually challenged adults in a Tacony cellar and stealing their federal benefits. Weston was the official recipient of Social Security benefits for 10 men and women from 1995 to 2011, according to a source familiar with the ongoing investigation.
“She had applied to be the “representative payee” for an 11th beneficiary, her biological daughter, the source said.
In an ongoing investigation, the Social Security Administration has found that Weston was getting the checks for four relatives, including children; five individuals who were not related; and one person who had the same last name but whose relationship to Weston has not been firmly established.
As of October, Weston was terminated as the payee for seven of the beneficiaries, the source said.
Of those beneficiaries, three were with Weston at the time of her arrest; two are dead; one no longer needed a representative payee; and one was switched to a more suitable payee.
Payments for the three others were suspended, pending the results of an investigation by the administration’s Office of Inspector General, the source said.
Police continue to probe the 2005 death of Donna Spadea, 59, while in Weston’s care in Philadelphia.
Another person who died under Weston’s care was Maxine Lee, 39, of Philadelphia. In November 2008, she was found dead in a house that Weston was renting in Norfolk, Va. Norfolk police said Lee died of natural causes. A medical examiner attributed Lee’s death to meningitis, with severe malnutrition as a contributing factor.
Weston had served less than four years in prison for a 1984 conviction for starving to death a man, 25, she kept trapped in her Philadelphia apartment. She was arrested in October with her daughter and husband after the landlord of a Tacony apartment house found four intellectually handicapped people locked in the building’s cellar.
A sweep of the apartment where Weston was staying turned up identification records for as many as 50 people, including power-of-attorney paperwork, forms of identification, and Social Security numbers. Police said it suggested a vast fraud operation.
People who are convicted of crimes are banned by law from accepting government checks on behalf of others, but it is a self-reporting system.
The social security administration is very lax on who is appointed as a representative payee and should be encouraging more professional organizations or registered guardians to act as payees. Each year billions are stolen in benefits from the poor by those who are claiming to help.
The answer is not only better background checks but accurate record keeping that can be reviewed by other family members, a court or agency at any time. Our company, eGuardianship.com www.eGuardianship.com has pioneered the nation’s first online real-time reporting system for wards. Such systems ensure proper recordkeeping and help to minimize if not eliminate fraud.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) is proposing a bill that would give the Social Security Administration access to FBI databases in order for caseworkers to conduct criminal background checks. It’s a start.