Criminal Justice

Transgender defendant stole nearly $250K in SSI benefits as a man while earning income as a woman

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A 70-year-old transgender woman stole nearly $250,000 in federal disability benefits by applying for them as a man while working simultaneously as a woman during much of the same period she was receiving SSI payments.

Sentenced Monday by a federal judge to eight months of home confinement and three years of probation, Richelle Dee McDonald avoided time behind bars in the Portland case in part because of her troubled background as a young adult, the Oregonian reports.

She originally got a social security card at age 15 under her birth name of Richard Duncan McDonald. As Richard Duncan McDonald she also applied in 1974 for Supplemental Security Income benefits because of injuries suffered in a motor vehicle accident. The payments were made to a bank account in California, where Richard Duncan McDonald was licensed to drive.

Meanwhile, Richelle Dee McDonald applied for a second social security number under that name in 1972, underwent gender-reassignment surgery in 1981 and subsequently worked nearly 25 years as a janitor for a hospital chain in Oregon.

No one in the federal government noticed a problem until she applied for social security benefits as Richelle Dee McDonald and officials tried to verify her identity, the article says. At that point, similarities between the dual personas (Richelle Dee McDonald was exactly four years younger than Richard Duncan McDonald, for instance) sparked an investigation.

McDonald, who agreed to a plea bargain, handed over $30,000 and will also be required to pay restitution, which will likely be withheld from her social security benefits, the Oregonian notes.

“You stole a quarter of a million dollars that didn’t belong to you,” U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez told her at sentencing.

McDonald said she was sorry.

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