New Bedford Man Charged With Stealing Over $450,000 in Veterans’ Disability Benefits

Jun 10, 2024

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

BOSTON – A New Bedford man has been charged with stealing over $450,000 in disability benefits issued by the United States Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) intended for a 20-year veteran of the United States Marine Corps suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).  

Joseph Smith, 71, was charged with one count of theft of government benefits and one count of conspiracy to steal government benefits. Smith is currently in custody on unrelated charges and will appear in federal court in Boston at 12:30 p.m. on June 11, 2024.  

According to the charging documents, shortly after the victim’s ALS diagnosis in August 2015, the VBA approved the victim’s application for disability benefits and awarded him approximately $8,318 in monthly payments. The VBA began issuing payments in September 2015 via monthly checks mailed to the victim’s former residence in New Bedford, where he had resided with Smith’s relative and others prior to hospitalization.  

It is alleged that between approximately 2015 and 2020, while the victim was hospitalized for ALS, Smith and others received monthly VBA disability checks intended for the victim and deposited those checks into bank accounts they controlled. Smith allegedly first deposited the disability checks into a bank account in his own name and then began depositing the checks into a bank account that he and others fraudulently opened in the name of victim. Shortly after depositing the disability checks, Smith allegedly withdrew the funds in cash and used the money for personal expenses. 

In total, between in or around 2015 and 2020, Smith and others allegedly stole more than $450,000 in VBA disability benefits intended for the victim.

“80 years ago this week, incredibly brave members of our military stormed the beaches of Normandy to save Europe. Every citizen owes a debt of gratitude to the veterans who have served our country. It is beyond the pale to steal disability payments that were intended for a 20-year military veteran facing a life-threatening disease, as is alleged here. The immorality exposed by the criminal justice system is, at times, simply stunning,” said Acting United States Attorney Joshua S. Levy.

“It is difficult to imagine a financial crime more despicable than one alleged to have targeted a vulnerable member of our community. But targeting a vulnerable person who proudly served our nation is exactly that ‘difficult to imagine’ offense. The Postal Inspection Service, working with our law enforcement partners is committed to identifying these predators and bringing them to justice,” said Ketty D. Larco-Ward, Inspector in Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Boston Division.

“Our office is committed to holding accountable those who allegedly steal VA benefits intended for veterans with disabilities,” said Special Agent in Charge Christopher Algieri of the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General’s Northeast Field Office. “We thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners for their excellent work in pursuing justice in this case.”

“We will continue to pursue those who misuse the Social Security number and identities of others for their own personal and selfish gain,” said Gail S. Ennis, Inspector General for the Social Security Administration. “I thank our law enforcement partners for working with us in this investigation and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their efforts in prosecuting this case and holding this individual accountable for their alleged conduct.”

The charge of theft of government benefits provides for a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater. The charge of conspiracy to steal government benefits provides for a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and statutes which govern the determination of a sentence in a criminal case.

Acting U.S. Attorney Levy, USPIS INC Larco-Ward, VA-OIG SAC Algieri and SSA IG Ennis made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin A. Saltzman of the Securities Financial & Cyber Fraud Unit is prosecuting the case.

The details contained in the charging document are allegations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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