COLUMBUS - A Marietta woman admitted Wednesday in U.S. District Court to concealing the death of her adoptive mother and collecting her Social Security benefits for more than a decade.
Patricia Hodges, 65, pleaded guilty in the Southern District Court of Ohio in Columbus to one count of theft of government money and faces up to 10 years in prison.
According to the statement of fact, Hodges admitted to investigators in November 2011 that her mother, Janet Kelly, had died of natural causes in the spring of 1997 in Lake Worth, Fla. Hodges, who was living with her mother at the time, buried her mother in the backyard and continued to receive her Social Security benefits until November 2011, officials said.
All told, Hodges fraudulently collected $141,962 in benefits, officials said.
"There have been larger cases, but this is one of the more unusual set of facts we've seen in a fraud case," said Fred Alverson, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Hodges became the subject of an investigation by the Social Security Administration while living at 1322 Colegate Drive, Marietta, in September 2011.
Kelly, who was born in 1908, would have turned 103 that year and it is the policy of the Social Security Administration to require face-to-face visits with those 103 and older.
According to the statement of facts, a Social Security Administration official became suspicious when she could not locate Kelly at the Colegate Drive address, which was associated with the bank account receiving Kelly's benefits.
In the course of assisting that investigation, the Marietta Police Department located 30 marijuana plants inside the home, which Patricia shared with her husband, Marvin Hodges, 67, as they were checking the residence for Kelly's body.
The pair were arrested on felony drug possession charges.
Patricia pleaded guilty in April to a fourth-degree felony count of cultivation of marijuana and was sentenced in June to serve six months in prison.
Marvin pleaded guilty at the same time to fifth-degree felony possession of marijuana and was sentenced to an eight-month prison term.
Marvin was never charged in the Social Security fraud case, said Alverson.
"There is nothing in the evidence so far that would lead to charging her husband with Social Security fraud," he said.
Alverson noted that the bank account receiving the benefits was controlled by Patricia.
According to a report by the Palm Beach County, Fla., Sheriff's Office, Patricia had relayed to Ohio detectives that Marvin was not living with her and Kelly in Florida at the time of Kelly's death.
The report stated that Patricia found Kelly dead on the bathroom floor.
"Patricia placed a thin chain around the (deceased's) neck and wrapped her in a blanket and buried her in a spot in the yard where she would sit and watch birds," said the report.
Florida detectives were able to find the remains and verify that they were Kelly's, said Teri Barbera, public information officer for the Palm Beach County, Fla., Sheriff's Office.
"There was no foul play expected and she was not charged," said Barbera.
Because an autopsy turned up no evidence of foul play, Patricia could have only been charged with disposing of a human corpse, a misdemeanor, said Barbera. However, now the statute of limitation on that charge has passed, she added.
Senior U.S. District Judge George C. Smith will schedule a date for sentencing. Hodges remains free on bond and will remain so until sentencing, said Alverson.
Theft of government money is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release, said Alverson.
Restitution can also be ordered as part of the sentence, but that is left up to the sentencing judge.
As part of the plea agreement, Patricia said she would pay restitution as ordered, up to the full $141,962.
If sentenced to prison time, the Bureau of Prisons often places prisoners in a job to earn money to pay toward restitution, said Alverson.
"We collect restitution from all defendants who are ordered to pay in any amount we can," he said.