Grandmother faces prison in Social Security fraud

DETROIT (AP) -- A Detroit woman whom authorities accuse of defrauding Social Security of nearly $120,000 over two decades said she needed the money to raise five grandchildren.

Mary Alice Austin, 67, pleaded guilty to unlawfully accepting her son's Social Security checks, and faces 10 to 16 months behind bars when she is sentenced Friday at the U.S. District Court in Detroit, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Court records show she paid someone to pose as her son for 20 years while he was in prison so she could continue receiving his disability benefits.

Defense lawyer Natasha Webster pleaded for leniency, asking for home confinement instead of prison.

"Although Ms. Austin regrettably continued to accept her son's Social Security checks unlawfully, she did not use the money to live beyond her means or to live a lavish lifestyle," Webster wrote in court documents.

Prosecutors, however, argued that Austin broke the law and should face prison time.

"This was not a crime of opportunity, but one committed over two decades," Assistant U.S. Attorney Blondell Morey wrote in a court filing. "Her most egregious acts were hiring, on three separate occasions, someone to impersonate her son to the Social Security Administration."

Published: Wed, Mar 30, 2011