After her father’s death in December 2006, Erie resident Loraleigh Helen Barber said she became dependent on her Social Security disability benefits because she needed extra income. .
The addiction lasted more than a decade.
Barber — who was his father’s designated beneficiary while he was alive — did not report his father’s death to the Social Security Administration.
She told investigators at one point that her father was visiting family in the Catskills.
Barber continued to collect the benefits for 12 years, until 2019. They totaled $127,636.
She must repay the money and spend a year and a day in federal prison and serve two years of probation.
U.S. District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter handed down the sentence Wednesday in federal court in Erie for Barber, 52, who pleaded guilty in January to one count of theft of government property.
To plead guilty:Erie woman pleads guilty to collecting her father’s Social Security after his death; $127,636 taken
Barber wanted a probation sentence, citing his lifelong struggles with mental health and substance abuse issues.
“I apologize for my actions,” Barber told Baxter. “I fell on hard times financially and mentally and became addicted to it.”
Baxter acknowledged Barber’s problems, but said she also had to consider another aspect of the case – “the total amount of the loss, which was high”.
Barber’s maximum possible sentence was 10 years in federal prison, although she faces a sentence of one year and three months to one year and nine months under recommended federal sentencing guidelines. The guidelines take into account the defendant’s guilty plea, background and other factors. Barber’s prior record included a DUI from 2006, according to the defense’s sentencing memorandum.
Barber’s attorney, Deputy Federal Public Defender Aaron Sontz, also requested probation, referring to Barber’s “stories and personal characteristics,” including “his nonviolent nature,” according to the sentencing memo. The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Sellers, asked Baxter to order a sentence within the guideline range, arguing in court that such a sentence “would reflect conduct”.
By imposing a sentence of a year and a day instead of a year, Baxter allowed Barber to be recognized for her good behavior in prison and to reduce her sentence.
A federal grand jury indicted Barber in September 2019 on the sole count of theft of government property. The government accused Barber of taking the $127,636 between January 1, 2007 and August 2, 2019.
Charge:Erie woman charged with $128,000 Social Security fraud
The Office of the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration investigated Barber as part of a routine audit, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania, based in Pittsburgh, which includes Erie. Barber told an investigator that his father was in the Catskills when he had really died 12 years earlier, Sellers said during Barber’s plea hearing.
On the same day Barber was charged, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said, four other people in the Western District were also charged with receiving Social Security benefits after the legal beneficiaries died. Barber was Erie’s only defendant.
In Barber’s case, her father died Dec. 27, 2006. They lived together in his apartment and she had supported him for years, according to Sontz’s sentencing memo. Barber, according to the memo, told investigators “she asked to be the representative beneficiary of her father’s SSA benefits because her father was an alcoholic.”
After his father’s death, Barber “made the decision to continue to receive his father’s benefits,” according to the sentencing memo. He said Barber spent the money on rent and other living expenses.
“Over time,” according to the memo, “Ms. Barber became accustomed to having extra income, and much like a drug, she became addicted to it.”