Illinois woman pleads guilty in disability fraud case

Naturally, disability fraud is taken very seriously when someone uses it to claim federal benefits or workers' compensation. It's also a crime, however, to just take advantage of people's generosity and other programs geared toward people with disabilities by pretending to be someone you are not -- or to have medical conditions you don't actually have.

A 35-year-old Illinois woman recently pled guilty to one count of mail fraud and four counts of wire fraud related to actions that ultimately defrauded two nonprofit organizations. She admitted to scamming a New York nonprofit agency by falsely claiming to be a breast cancer survivor, lying to at least two companies to obtain a $4,500 triathlon bicycle and posing as someone confined to a wheelchair with spinal muscular atrophy and muscular dystrophy in order to attend a nonprofit camp in Texas for the disabled.

Her plea actually allows her to avoid the charge of aggravated identity theft, with which she was charged earlier in the year. Aggravated identity theft is a charge used in federal courts that relates to identity theft that happens in relation to certain other federal crimes. It has the effect of establishing mandatory minimum sentences for each of those other crimes that would not otherwise be part of the equation.

The defendant in this case has publicly acknowledged that she has a "lying addiction." Even without the mandatory minimums attached to her sentence, the situation is serious. She faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each charge. Her sentencing won't be held until January of next year, presumably after the court has time to evaluate the case and consider any aggravating or mitigating factors that may affect the outcome.

Cases like this are a reminder that it's very easy to get carried away with a pretense, online or off, and the consequences can be fierce -- and somewhat unexpected due to the complex nature of federal law. If you're facing any kind of federal charges, get experienced assistance -- fast.

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