DETROIT (AP) — An 80-year-old Detroit man was sentenced to 366 days in prison Tuesday for spending $265,000 in Social Security benefits that mistakenly went into his mother's bank account long after her death in 1989.
At trial, Otis Wilder tried to convince jurors that he believed the money in his mother's account was his inheritance, not Social Security payments. But U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts didn't buy it.
"He was perfectly aware of what he was doing," Roberts said of Wilder's regular use of his late mother's debit card to spend the money. "This theft did not represent a lapse in judgment."
It took 24 years — until 2014 — for the government to catch up to Wilder, but that doesn't dilute the crime, Roberts said.
Wilder leans on a cane, walks with his right leg in a protective boot and has chronic health problems, including diabetes and high blood pressure. The judge said the federal prison system is equipped to handle medical issues.
The government learns about deaths of Social Security recipients through families, funeral homes and state reporting systems. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Particka said Iotis Wilder's death in 1989 may have been overlooked and not triggered a halt in payments because her widow's benefits were tied to her husband's Social Security number.
Particka noted that Otis Wilder didn't appear to be hurting for money: He has his own Social Security and a pension from Ford Motor Co. The government asked for 18 months in prison.
"I'm sorry about what happened," Wilder said in court Tuesday. "I'm not sure how I got in this mess."
A 366-day sentence qualifies him for good behavior credits. He could be released from prison in less than a year.
Since 2013, more than a dozen people in eastern Michigan have been sentenced for stealing more than $2 million in benefits after relatives died. Prison is rare.
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