Long Beach Woman Among 22 Charged in Federal Social Security Benefits Fraud Sweep

A 61-year-old Long Beach woman was among 22 people recently charged with defrauding the Social Security Administration out of $2.6 million by illegally receiving cash benefits, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Most of the defendants allegedly took Social Security benefits meant for relatives after they died and failed to alert the agency that the actual beneficiary passed away, a release stated.

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The cases against Long Beach resident Gwendolyn Marie Clarrett—who is charged in an indictment that alleges nearly $25,000 in losses—and the other suspects were announced Monday after authorities arrested an SSA employee for allegedly diverting benefits to herself.

Officials said federal grand juries in Los Angeles returned 21 indictments last week. Those charged last week include the federal government employee, a deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) and a San Fernando Valley man who allegedly received more than $400,000 in benefits.

“Government programs like Social Security provide important benefits to qualified individuals so they can have economic security,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “We cannot tolerate abuse of the system that provides support to millions of honest Americans, many of whom worked their entire lives to receive Social Security benefits. This series of cases illustrates our commitment to root out abuse and fraud involving social security, and to protect the integrity of an important program aimed at helping senior citizens and the most vulnerable in our society.”

The charges against all of the defendants include theft of government property—punishable by a maximum five-year sentence in federal prison. Some defendants are charged with additional offenses, including aggravated identity theft and defrauding the SSA.

SSA employee and Thousand Oaks resident Daysi Salazar-Arias, 38, was arrested Monday morning by special agents with the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General. She is named in an eight-count indictment alleging she diverted benefits to herself and making it appear that the money was going to legitimate beneficiaries, one of whom was dead, officials stated.

LASD Sgt. Vicki Lynn Gregory is charged with seven felony counts for allegedly taking her mother’s Widow’s Insurance Benefits after she died, according to officials. The indictment stated Gregory “intentionally concealed the death of her mother…in order to continue to receive and spend these Widow’s Insurance Benefits.” She allegedly received about $30,000 illegally.

West Hills resident Jose Aguinaco Ugalde, 68, is charged with 16 counts, including aggravated identity theft which carries a mandatory two-year prison sentence. He is suspected of receiving over $400,000 in benefits—the largest alleged loss, officials stated.

Ugalde allegedly stole Retirement Insurance Benefits that continued to be sent to his dad, even though the man had died, according to the indictment. Ugalde also allegedly stole spousal benefits meant for his ex-stepmother. Officials said the two identity theft charges in the indictment allege he illegally used a debit card issued to his late father and forged his ex-stepmother’s signature to steal these benefits.

“The Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General is committed to pursuing those who violate the public trust,” said Robb Stickley, the Special Agent in Charge of the San Francisco Field Division, which is responsible for Southern California. “We will continue to uphold the integrity of Social Security’s benefit programs, which are a lifeline for so many Americans and their families.”

The other defendants charged in the grand jury indictments are:

  • Ricardo Stephens, 58, of Inglewood, who allegedly illegally received nearly $350,000.
  • Kathryn Kushner, 64, of Oxnard, who is charged with illegally taking $241,793 from the Social Security Administration.
  • Maria Lopez, 59, of Moreno Valley, who illegally received just over $35,000, according to her indictment.
  • Elizabeth White, 54, of the Willowbrook District of Los Angeles, who allegedly caused losses of just over $100,000.
  • Kim Dennise Scovis, 60, of Thousand Oaks, who is charged in a case alleging $68,048 in losses.
  • Mario Panagiotopoulos, 48, of Whelan, who allegedly illegally took $121,000 from the Social Security Administration.
  • Sabina Martinez, 69, of Romoland, whose case involves nearly $100,000 in alleged losses.
  • Katina Dell Lasater, 72, of Temecula, who is charged in an indictment that alleges she caused $23,636 in losses.
  • John Miguel Cervantes, 57, of Oceanside, who allegedly caused losses totaling nearly $250,000.
  • Debra Christine Clark, 47, of Escondido, who is charged with illegally receiving just under $113,000.
  • Teodora Valdez Uribe, 82, currently residing in Mexico, who illegally took just over $115,000, according to her indictment.
  • James Robert Stutte, 40, of Salt Lake City, Utah, who is accused of defrauding the Social Security Administration out of more than $33,000.
  • Gwendolyn Marie Clarrett, 61, of Long Beach, who is charged in an indictment that alleges nearly $25,000 in losses.
  • Gene Shui Wong, 65, of Yucca Valley, who is charged with stealing $127,361 from the Social Security Administration.
  • Judith Catherine Alcala, 66, of Chino Hills, who allegedly caused $161,580 in losses.
  • Taralyn Boucher, 60, of La Quinta, whose case alleges a total of $111,813 in losses.
  • Janet Dial, 58, of Thermal, who is also charged with bank fraud in a case that accuses her of illegally receiving $137,105.
  • Laura Michelle Dubief, 29 of Los Angeles, and Maria Isabel Bailey, 56, of Gardena, who are together charged in an indictment that alleges they stole $41,670 in Social Security benefits.

The above defendants charged in the sweep—except for Salazar-Arias and Uribe, who is in Mexico—will receive summons from the court to appear for arraignments in May.

The Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General investigates waste, fraud and abuse in the program. If you suspect that a beneficiary or someone designated to handle their affairs is defrauding the program, you can call the Social Security Fraud Hotline at 1.800.269.0271 (from 7:00AM to 1:00PM Pacific Time) or you can file a report online anytime at:https://www.ssa.gov/fraudreport/oig/public_fraud_reporting/form.htm.

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Stephanie Rivera is the community engagement editor for the Long Beach Post. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015.