A Washington man has been indicted by a Franklin County Grand Jury for allegedly stealing more than $100,000 from the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS).
Raymond O'Dell, 69, is facing felony charges of theft, identity fraud, and tampering with records after he allegedly collected retirement benefits for his deceased mother, Heather O'Dell, for more than 20 years.
OPERS learned of his mother's death through a series of audits.
Heather O'Dell, whose husband once worked for the Ohio Department of Transportation, passed away in 1989. OPERS had been depositing benefits into a joint account maintained by Raymond O'Dell until her death was discovered in July 2012.
O'Brien says the fraud was discovered through an audit check that automatically takes place when a retiree hits the age of 100. "The audit showed she'd passed away in 1989 and she had collected from 1989 to present day over $100,000 in PERS benefits," O'Brien said.
O'Dell is accused of illegally collecting a total of $102,448 from OPERS.
OPERS General Counsel Julie Emch Becker says fraud is extremely rare at OPERS. "We believe it was because at the time of the death in the late 80's, there wasn't the technology in the reporting that we have today," Becker said.
As a result of this case, OPERS will reduce the age for automatic audit checks. "We had been sending out audit confirmation checks to those who were over 100 years old," Becker said. "We are most likely going to start sending those out to younger individuals who are 90 years old."
At the request of Prosecutor O'Brien, agents with the Attorney General's Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) investigated the allegations. "We believe [O'Dell] deliberately misled OPERS in order to take this money and spend it on himself." said Attorney General DeWine.
"The BCI investigation reflects that this was deliberate fraud because a change of address card was mailed to OPERS more than 16 years after Helen O'Dell had passed away," O'Brien said. "Stealing a relative's identity and defrauding the State of Ohio will be detected and prosecuted."
"Our aggressive pursuit of this case should serve notice to anyone
contemplating the misuse of pension benefit dollars that OPERS will take
decisive action for restitution," said Becker. "While cases like this
are rare, we appreciate the swiftness with which the county prosecutor and the
attorney general worked to help OPERS ensure the security of its members'
O'Dell faces up to seven and a half years in prison if convicted on all three state charges.
Federal investigators are also conducting an investigation into allegations that O'Dell took more than $100,000 in social security benefits.
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