Man cashed dead mom's social security checks for 37 years, now sentenced to 6 months in jail

His neighbor said he was trying to do the right thing by notifiying officials about checks getting sent.

"He cut it off like four or five times," said Reginald Carpenter. "But they just kept pursuing and giving it to him."

But a U.S. District Judge in Detroit didn't see it that way.

The 'he' is 76-year-old Walter Terrell and the 'it' that Carpenter is referring to are social security benefit checks that were mailed to Terrell. The checks however were addressed to Terrell's mom. Problem is, she has been dead since 1981.

"Every single time you write the false name on the check, you sign somebody's name that is not yours, that is a crime," said U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider. "Eventually this was direct deposited into his account. So the defendent had to lie to get the direct deposit into his account."

Terrell was given six months in prison after it was found he had stolen more than $280,000 by depositing those checks. There were efforts to get in contact with Terrell's mother after they noticed her medicare benefits were not getting used.

But everytime they tried, Terrell said his mother was on vacation or had someone impersonate her, which allowed for the checks to continue.

"It was 37 years of fraud. Thirty-seven years of stealing the government's money," said Schneider.

While it's undclear what that money was getting spent on, Carpenter claims it was going toward medical expenses, like the back surgery that Terrell had just underwent.

Schneider said crimes like these are more common than one would think. Despite the dearth of prosecutions regarding fraud, it is still happening. 

"And if you're not entitled to those benefits, what you should expect is prison time."