A 60-year-old Philadelphia woman was sentenced Monday to nearly three years in prison for stealing $222,000 in government assistance checks sent to her grandmother for decades after the older woman had died.
For 21 years, Doris Whitfield Richardson went to great lengths to keep collecting her grandmothers' federal veterans and pension benefits, authorities said, depositing the checks into her own account. At the same time, Richardson was getting Social Security and housing assistance checks of her own.
U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond handed down the 33-month prison term after rejecting arguments by Federal Defender Elizabeth Toplin that the money didn't pay for a lavish lifestyle but just to keep afloat a poor family "on the edge of desperation."
Richardson only used the money to care for her grandchildren, including a disabled granddaughter, Toplin said. A prison term would destroy the family, she argued.
Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Reinitz noted that Richardson lied twice to agents during the investigation by the Secret Service and Veterans Administration's Office of Inspector General. The agencies depend on people receiving assistance to be honest, she said.
"These programs are simply too large to individually monitor each person who received benefits," the prosecutor wrote in a sentencing memo to the judge.
The judge said he recognized that Richardson had become a key provider for her grandchildren, but said that didn't justify fraud. He also noted that Richardson had five previous convictions for crimes including assault, drugs and weapons possession.
The only reason she stopped taking the money, Diamond concluded, was because she got caught.
Richardson didn't deny it.
"Did it ever occur to you to go out and get a job?" the judge said. "Did it ever occur to you that the way to help your grandchildren is not to commit a series of endless federal frauds?"
He also rejected a request that Richardson, who uses a walker and a wheelchair, be allowed to report to prison at a later date. He ordered her into custody immediately.