The dead don't just vote... they collect pension benefits too

Complain if you will about the fat pension plans which state and federal government workers receive, but after a lifetime of dedicated service it’s a great way to ensure your security in your golden years. Such was the case for Martin Petschauer, an auditor for New York State who put in a long career toiling away for the state and then retired, collecting his pension benefits until October of last year. This was actually quite the feat, particularly when you consider that Martin had passed away before Barack Obama was elected President. (Fox News)

A Florida man has been sent to the slammer for pretending to be his dead brother, a former auditor for New York State, so he could collect $180,000 of his pension benefits over seven years, authorities said Friday.

Officials said Martin Petschauer, of Queens, died on July 9, 2008.

But the state kept sending his retirement checks to Florida, where his brother Robert, 71, controlled his accounts.

When officials finally learned in October 2015 the former auditor had passed away, the checks were stopped.

The brother, Robert Petschauer, was reportedly quite incensed over the state cruelly cutting off his sibling’s checks and even called up to complain. In retrospect, that was probably a strategic error.

We’ve had a few versions of this discussion in the past, but this is yet another reminder of the fact that we still lack a comprehensive method of recording when everyone dies and it’s one of our larger vulnerabilities when it comes to fraud of various types. I’ve lost count of the audits which have revealed how many dead people keep voting in various counties around the country long after they’ve joined the Choir Eternal. When it comes to cashing in, it’s more than just pension funds which are being raided. The Social Security Administration collects news reports of people who do the same thing with their family members’ benefits and some of the cases are truly staggering. Here’s just a couple of their examples.

Here’s another recent case of a Pennsylvania man who admitted to cashing his deceased mother’s Social Security for almost 40 years—from her death in 1973 until 2012. He pled guilty in Federal court, and will be sentenced on January 23 to a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

As strange as this may seem, sometimes those left behind have done more than just fail to report their loved ones’ deaths. Last July, a woman was sentenced to over four years in prison after she collected the Social Security benefits of a man who lived in an unlicensed adult foster home that she operated. After he died in 1996, the woman buried him on her mother’s property and even aided the decomposition process by dumping bags of lime on the grave.

She forged his name on the benefit checks that kept arriving, and collected more than $200,000. The woman and her domestic partner initially told our investigators that the deceased man was still alive but out of town. Later they admitted he had been dead for years.

That guy in Pennsylvania was defrauding the system for more than 40 years. And why didn’t he get caught in all of that time? Because there’s no standardized method of recording all deaths and acting on that information appropriately. We manage to keep track of nearly every birth of a legal citizen in this country and we assign them Social Security numbers by default. That same system could be used every time a death certificate is filled out, sending the information to some sort of central database in each state and one at the federal level because people frequently move from state to state. At that point any and all benefits could be promptly cancelled and the name should be reported to the voting precinct where they last lived. Those names could be lined out in the voting books, and if someone showed up claiming to be that person on election day the authorities could be promptly notified.

Would it really be that difficult to implement? And if not, what are the arguments against doing it? Please don’t tell me this is some sort of privacy issue because I don’t think the deceased are all that worried about their privacy. Yes, it would cost some money initially to implement and then to keep up with the maintenance, but it sounds like we’d make that back just in the elimination of fraudulent payments.