A woman who collected her dead mother’s Social Security payments for more than a decade was sentenced yesterday to 30 days in federal prison — a shorter sentence than she served last year on a conviction for growing marijuana.
Patricia Hodges, 65, of Marietta in southeastern Ohio, was sent to a state prison for six months after law-enforcement officials found a pot-growing operation in her home in December 2011.
Investigators had been looking for Hodges’ mother, Janet Kelly. After they found the drugs, Hodges confessed that she had buried her mother in her backyard 14 years earlier and had been cashing her Social Security checks since then.
Yesterday, U.S. District Judge George C. Smith sentenced Hodges on the theft charge. He ordered her to repay the $141,962 she stole from Social Security and to spend six months in home detention after the prison stay.
She could have been sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined $250,000.
The investigation began when Social Security officials, following protocol, decided they needed to physically see Kelly to make sure she was the one collecting payments. They went to Hodges’ home in Marietta, where Kelly’s checks were being sent.
At first, Hodges told them that her mother was “on a cruise.” A few days later, she admitted the truth: Her mother had died in 1997 at the age of 88 when the two of them were living in Lake Worth, Fla., and Hodges had buried her in the backyard.
That’s where investigators uncovered Kelly’s body in early 2012. Hodges was not charged with anything in relationship to her mother’s death or burial.
But investigators did charge her, as well as her husband, Marvin, with growing marijuana. Her husband was sentenced to eight months in prison.
In the federal case, Hodges, who has at least five previous criminal convictions, argued that she was too sick and old to go to prison. She asked for a one-day sentence and six months of house arrest. She said she has lung cancer, which is in remission, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.She said she would get a college degree if she wasn’t incarcerated, with the goal of working and paying back the stolen money.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Dale E. Williams Jr. said a short prison term “would send a wrong message” to others considering a similar crime. He asked for a two-year sentence.
In court documents, Hodges said she cashed her mother’s Social Security checks after her death because her husband had left her and she had no other income. She did not explain why she informed no one of her mother’s death, which she said was “of natural causes,” or why she buried her mother’s body.
“All I can say is: Sorry,” she said in court.
By Kathy Lynn Gray - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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