Lead Couple Sentenced to Federal Prison

May 21, 2024

From the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of South Dakota

RAPID CITY – United States Attorney Alison J. Ramsdell announced today that a Lead, South Dakota husband and wife convicted of Conspiracy to Defraud the United States have been sentenced to prison. The couple must also pay $211,564.17 in restitution.

On May 15, 2024, U.S. Circuit Judge Jonathan A. Kobes sentenced Tami Lee Stokes, 52, to 15 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay a $100 special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund.

On May 16, 2024, U.S. District Judge Karen E. Schreier sentenced Jason Lee Stokes, 48, to 18 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay a $100 special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund.

The Stokes were indicted by a federal grand jury in October of 2023 for Theft of Government Funds, Conspiracy to Defraud the United States, and False Statement. They both pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Defraud the United States on March 8, 2024. The conviction stems from the Stokes’ scheme to fraudulently obtain benefits from the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). 

In December of 2012, Jason Stokes submitted an application for Social Security Title II Disability Insurance Benefits, claiming he was unable to work because of illness. He qualified for benefits.  Thereafter, Jason and his wife, Tami Stokes, repeatedly reported false and fraudulent information to the SSA about the nature and extent of Jason’s alleged disability.

From 2013 to 2023, Jason and Tami filed written reports and attended doctors’ appointments claiming Jason needed a wheelchair, could not physically function without constant assistance, and was unable to work. At doctors’ appointments, Jason acted as though he was suffering the symptoms falsely reported in the Stokes’ written reports. The Stokes also sought and obtained benefits on behalf of a minor dependent child. In reality, Jason was healthy and continued to work as a self-employed construction contractor, putting his LLC in his wife’s name to hide his employability.  

Throughout the time period of the fraud, the Stokes obtained $166,458.00 in Title II benefits for Jason’s falsified disability, and $43,042.00 in Title II benefits on behalf of their minor child, resulting in a total payout of approximately $209,500.00. During this time period, the Stokes purchased three snowmobiles, two vehicles, a trailer, and a motorcycle. They obtained numerous hunting licenses, took month-long international vacations, and enjoyed various outdoor activities including helicoptering and boating.

Ultimately, their ten years of fraud was uncovered in 2022 when a doctor at a required consultative exam noted Jason’s muscle tone and other bodily functions did not match his purported levels of impairment. Investigators surveilled the Stokes engaging in their daily routine and observed them shopping, traveling to Mexico to go scuba-diving, going to restaurants, and driving. These activities completely contradicted the Stokes’ representation to the SSA that Jason couldn’t leave the home and needed assistance in essentially every aspect of his life.

When sentencing Tami Stokes on May 15, 2024, to fifteen months in federal prison, U.S. Circuit Judge Jonathan A. Kobes stated that Tami took “full advantage of the fraud on the United States” and lived “the high life on the taxpayers’ dime.” At Jason Stokes’ sentencing on May 16, 2024, U.S. District Judge Karen E. Schreier told Jason, “Most of the people in South Dakota are honest, hardworking people. The scheme you were involved in here was not that at all.” Judge Schreier outlined the “outright lies” that the Stokes fed the SSA, including that Jason could not shave or brush his teeth, meanwhile the Stokes used “government money to purchase [various vehicles] and other items.” Judge Schreier sentenced Jason to eighteen months in federal prison, citing Jason’s conduct as more egregious than Tami’s because of the fact he actually pretended to be totally disabled. 

This case was investigated by the Office of the Inspector General – Social Security Administration. Assistant U.S. Attorney Anna Lindrooth prosecuted the case.

The Stokes were remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.

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