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Document and Benefit Fraud

Maryland woman sentenced to 45 months in prison for assuming the identity of a disabled victim for 25 years

BALTIMORE - U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake sentenced Chinyere Etoty, aka "Paulette Etoty," 50, of Cockeysville, Md., to 45 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for social security fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with a scheme to use stolen identifying information of a disabled victim for 25 years. Judge Blake determined at today's hearing that the amount of loss incurred by the victim as a result of the fraud scheme was $38,721.72 and ordered Etoty to pay restitution in that amount.

The sentence was announced by U. S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge William Winter of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Baltimore; and Special Agent in Charge Michael McGill of the Social Security Administration - Office of Inspector General, Philadelphia Field Division.

"For over two decades Chinyere Etoty continued to perpetrate a fraud with no regard or remorse for her crimes against some of our most vulnerable victims. Today she is faced with the consequences of her misdeeds," said Winter. "This sentence concludes a joint investigation with ICE and the Social Security Administration and reflects law enforcement's steadfast commitment to identify, investigate and prosecute individuals who try to exploit and profit from others."

According to testimony at the three day trial, in September 1984 Etoty stole personal identifying information belonging to a disabled resident of Decatur, Ill., to obtain a replacement social security card in the victim's name. Etoty used the fraudulent social security card to impersonate the victim for the next 25 years in order to obtain employment and driver's licenses, open bank accounts and apply for lines of credit. 

During this same time period, Etoty also assumed other identities and social security numbers that did not belong to her, and in 1996, she pled guilty in federal court in Florida to 12 counts of using two additional social security numbers that were not assigned to her. At her Florida guilty plea hearing, Etoty fraudulently identified herself using the name, residence and birth date of the victim. Evidence was subsequently presented at Etoty's sentencing hearing in 1996 that she had fraudulently represented herself as the victim at her guilty plea proceeding. Evidence was also presented at the 1996 sentencing that the individual whose identity Etoty had usurped was in fact a disabled adult living in Decatur who was receiving Social Security benefits.

The defendant continued to use the victim's social security number and means of identification following the 1996 sentencing. For example, she applied for and received a duplicate social security card in the victim's name while serving time in a federal correctional facility on her 1996 sentence. Trial evidence further established that after Etoty's release from prison following her 1996 conviction, Etoty relocated her fraudulent scheme to Baltimore where she continued to use the victim's social security number and identification.

Etoty was able to operate undetected until September 2006, when she applied in person for another duplicate social security card with the victim's social security number. Etoty's request was denied when the service representative read from the victim's social security record that Etoty had been using the victim's social security number for some time and had previously been convicted of social security fraud. When confronted by the service representative, Etoty denied being previously convicted for social security fraud or ever using the victim's name.

The case was referred to the SSA's Office of Inspector General which conducted a "sting" operation wherein Etoty was sent a letter informing her that in order to obtain a replacement social security number card, she would need to fill out an application and send in the original supporting identification documentation. Etoty responded a few days later by mailing a replacement card application for the victim's number, which Etoty represented as her own, as well as a birth certificate, social security card and driver's license containing the victim's personal identifying information.

The victim testified at trial that as a result of Etoty's conduct, she has had difficulty opening bank accounts of her own, difficulty receiving her disability benefits and that she has received numerous calls from creditors looking for payment on accounts that the victim did not open.

Assistant U. S. Attorneys Rachel M. Yasser and Mushtaq Gunja prosecuted this case.