In March 2013 we told you that the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System was seeking the return of more than $100,000 that a Washington state resident allegedly stole by collecting benefits on behalf of his deceased mother.
This week Raymond O’Dell pleaded guilty to multiple charges in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, and officials from the state, Franklin County and OPERS helped OPERS secure the repayment of $102,488.18 worth of pension checks issued to O’Dell’s mother more than 20 years after her death.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien and OPERS General Counsel Julie Emch Becker announced that O’Dell was sentenced to two years for identity fraud and one year each for theft and tampering with records related to the scheme. O’Dell, 70, will serve the terms concurrently with a federal sentence he received in 2013 for defrauding the Social Security Administration of $188,436 after his mother died.
O’Dell faces six month in prison and six months of house arrest related to the federal crimes and will then serve one year in state prison for the pension-related thefts. A federal judge also ordered that O’Dell repay the stolen Social Security money, which had been deposited into a joint account for his mother.
“This defendant made no effort to notify the state that his mother had died because he knew the payments would stop if he did,” DeWine said. “Those who try to defraud the state in this manner will be caught and will be prosecuted.”
OPERS discovered the discrepancy during a routine audit. Helen O’Dell, a Toledo resident whose husband had worked for the Ohio Department of Transportation, died in 1989 while living with her son in Washington. She had been receiving a pension benefit in a bank account maintained jointly with her son, and OPERS continued to deposit the benefits until her death was discovered in July 2012.
OPERS uses several databases and other tools in order to terminate pension benefits at the appropriate time, making cases such as this one “rare,” Becker said.
“Our aggressive pursuit of this unusual case should warn anyone contemplating the misuse of pension funds that OPERS will take decisive action for restitution,” Becker said. “While cases like this are rare, we appreciate the swiftness with which the county prosecutor and the attorney general worked to help OPERS ensure the security of its members’ retirement dollars.”