CRIME

Social Security worker pleads guilty to accepting bribes in exchange for more benefits

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (WJLA) - A former specialist for the Social Security Administration pled guilty Tuesday to soliciting more than $50,000 in bribes from Social Security recipients in return for providing them with extra, unauthorized benefits.

Christopher Payton, 46, of Mount Rainier, Md., pled guilty in D.C. District Court Tuesday to one count of bribery. The plea agreement calls for him to pay $54,662 in restitution and an identical amount in a forfeiture money judgment.

According to a statement of offense, signed by the defendant and the government, Payton was a Social Insurance Specialist for the SSA's Anacostia Office in Southeast Washington. His duties included conducting interviews regarding eligibility for benefits, authorizing or disallowing entitlement, and reviewing and authorizing Supplemental Security Income. He had computerized access to the agency's database.

Between January and May of 2013, Payton reportedly met with 13 people as part of his responsibilities at the agency. Upon meeting these individuals, Payton reportedly told them that if they gave him a tip, he would take care of them.

After the victims agreed Payton used his access to cause retroactive Supplemental Security Income benefits to go into the individuals' bank accounts.

"These retroactive payments were not properly authorized, and Payton knew that the people receiving them were not entitled to the extra income," said Bill Miller, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney's Office in D.C.

After the individuals began seeing increased retroactive benefits in their bank accounts, Miller said they met with Payton throughout the Anacostia neighborhood and gave him payments.

"All told, Payton received $54,662 in cash payments from the individuals for his actions," Miller said.

Payton's activities came to light after someone reported his suspicious conduct. In addition, authorities received information through a fraud hotline operated by the Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General.

Senior Judge Gladys Kessler scheduled Payton's sentencing for July 16.

The charge carries a statutory maximum of 15 years in prison and financial penalties. Under federal sentencing guidelines, Payton faces a likely range of 30 to 37 months in prison and a fine of up to $60,000.

The public can report allegations of waste, fraud, and abuse with respect to Social Security online at http://oig.ssa.gov/report or by phone at 1-800-269-0271.

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