Travis Wright, a 52 year old Alabama resident, was formally sentenced this week after admitting to Social Security Disability fraud early this year. For the last ten years, Wright has been collecting disability benefits from the SSA totaling around $70,000. In those ten years, it was discovered that he made an additional $146,000 from working for a trucking company, all of which was unreported.
Wright qualified for SSDI back in 1999 due to peripheral neuropathy in his foot, a condition that causes either pain or numbness and kept him from being able to work. He claims he is very sorry for neglecting to communicate his change in work status to the SSA when he started working in 2002, for a trucking company. Although he couldn’t drive the truck himself, he employed others to drive his truck or road along. His behavior cannot be merely excused as neglect, however, considering that he deliberately ignored five forms sent from the SSA in that period, requesting notice of any changes in work activity. His stated goal in working while still collecting benefits was to get off insulin so he could go back to work full time. The lack of logic in this answer does little to arouse sympathy for his plight.
The federal judge over Wright’s case has ruled that in addition to paying back the $70,000 he unlawfully received from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), the man must serve 5 months of prison time followed by 3 years of supervision, which include 5 months of being confined to his house when not at work. Wright’s attorney is planning to make an appeal to the judge to reverse the order of the sentence to accommodate Mr. Wright’s need to pay off his truck before being imprisoned and unable to do so. The lawyer argues that if Wright loses his truck because he has no income with which to make the payments, when he is released from prison he will be unable to start paying back the $70,000 he owes the SSA.
However, Wright’s attorney may find his requests falling on unsympathetic ears. U.S. District Judge Kristi DuBose has already shown a harsh attitude toward Wright in her refusal to allow for probation, and her harsh sentence. She is aware that he has a previous record of similar abuses, which, in spite of being too old to qualify as evidence in this case, disincline her to show him any leniency. And, after all, he has abused the system for over 10 years.
This case is just one more saddening story of how it is possible for people to abuse the privilege of the Social Security Disability program. As in Wright’s case, it is often a matter of years before these abusers are caught, and meanwhile they are diverting funds that would otherwise be helping those with legitimate disabling conditions. It can only be hoped that the harsh penalties imposed on those who are caught serves as a warning to others who are still stealing from the government, and ultimately, from taxpayers.