A Missouri man pleaded guilty this week to stealing his dead mother’s Social Security payments for more than a quarter century, accumulating nearly US$200,000 in the process, federal prosecutors said.
Reginald Bagley, 62, of Dellwood, Missouri, pleaded guilty Thursday to a felony charge of stealing money belonging to the United States, the Justice Department said in a news release. The crime could land him in prison for up to 10 years and result in a fine of up to $250,000 when he is sentenced in March.
Bagley told federal prosecutors that he had never reported his mother’s death on March 12, 1994, to the Social Security Administration, the agency said.
In 1998, Bagley set up a bank account where his dead mother’s benefits were deposited, according to a plea agreement in the case.
In total, from April 1, 1994, to July 31, 2020, Bagley stole $197,329 in Social Security benefits, prosecutors said.
His lawyer, Daniel A. Juengel, said in an interview Friday that Bagley “has accepted responsibility for his actions.”
“He’s very remorseful and understands that he’ll have to pay restitution back for the amount of money that was taken,” Juengel said.
The case against Bagley underscores a long-standing problem in which people collect benefits meant for their dead relatives. The Social Security Administration is responsible for issuing about $1 trillion in benefit payments every year, meaning that “even the slightest error in the overall payment process can result in millions of dollars in improper payments,” according to the agency’s financial report in 2021.
The report estimated that the agency had spent about $8.3 billion in improper payments in 2020; overpayments were about $6.8 billion of that.
What made Bagley’s case particularly unusual, Juengel said, was how long it had taken the Social Security Administration to investigate.
"The money just kept being used, and kept coming in and kept being used," Juengel said. "Then, you know, he was in over his head. And then eventually the Social Security Administration did an investigation."
It is unclear when exactly the agency began its investigation into Bagley.
The Social Security Administration and its Office of Inspector General did not immediately respond to emails and calls seeking comment Friday. The US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri also did not immediately respond to an email and a call seeking comment.
When the Social Security Administration determined that Bagley’s mother had not been using her Medicare benefits, the agency sent a letter to Bagley’s address to try to contact her, prosecutors said.
Shortly after the letter was sent, the bank account was closed, and the remaining balance of $2.83 was given to Bagley in a cashier’s cheque on July 24, 2020, according to the plea agreement.
Juengel said that Bagley, who is married and has five children and some grandchildren, was “not a wealthy guy.”
Bagley was a trash truck driver with a history of depression and anxiety who had been trying “to make ends meet,” Juengel said.
“Those are all factors that contributed to the nature of what was happening,” he said.
Still, Juengel emphasised that his client did not want to shirk responsibility for what he had done.
“He understands what he did,” Juengel said, “and he’s remorseful.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.