In a case that has to leave you shaking your head, Margarita Diaz, a 40 year old Social Security Administration (SSA) employee from New Jersey, was sentenced to two years in prison for accepting more than $26,000 in bribes to approve applicants who were not qualified to start receiving Social Security disability benefits immediately.
We’re not sure off the tops of our heads what’s stranger: the fact that someone who works for the SSA really thought they could get away with something like this or the fact that, despite having all that extra money, Ms. Diaz couldn’t scrape together enough money for a decent lawyer. According to court records, she was represented by a public defender.
The fact that she was crying when sentence was read should come as no surprise. Most people do get upset when they face the consequences for committing a crime. The fact that she was willing to risk going to jail in the first place for significantly less than what she already earns in salary (her annual pay was $67,000) is kind of a surprise.
Diaz helped applicants who were willing to pony up the dough to get presumptive disability benefits. Presumptive benefits are paid out to people whose disability is severe enough that there is little question regarding whether they will eventually qualify for benefits and are designed to help sustain them during the 6 month review period until their benefits are officially approved.
The qualifications for presumptive benefits are quite narrow, and fairly well defined. It is unclear exactly how many people Diaz accepted bribe money from, but sources put the number at about a dozen. Of course, there is no guaranteeing that all cases in which Ms. Diaz solicited bribes have come to light yet.
The evidence against Ms. Diaz was apparently convincing enough that her public defender attorney convinced her to admit that she had solicited and accepted bribes from Social Security disability applicants. Ms. Diaz’ attorney had requested probation rather than prison time, in light of the fact that Diaz has a young daughter, but this request was denied.
The unfortunate part of this whole matter is the real victims. The people who paid the bribes, whether they realize it or not, have also committed a crime. They could lose their Social Security disability benefits and face federal charges. Those who are already disabled and in need of Social Security Disability (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and other government disability programs can ill afford to give up those benefits while defending themselves for paying out bribes to an SSA official.
If anyone at the SSA ever offers to expedite things in exchange for anything, whether it is money or some other form of goods, services, favors, or anything else, report it immediately to the SSA Inspector General’s office. Failure to do so could affect your ability to collect disability benefits. If you actually pay a bribe, you could be charged with a crime (to say nothing of potentially losing your benefits, at least while the matter is sorted out).