Cancer victim admits fraud

Couple plead guilty in disability case as man used wife’s Social Security number to hide income

Friday, May 27, 2005
Mobile Register
Staff Reporter

Stricken with throat cancer, Herman Joe Smith could not even speak as he entered his guilty plea Thursday on federal fraud charges, nodding his head in response to questions from U.S. District Judge William Steele.

It is Smith’s illness that got him federal disability payments beginning in 1994.

But according to his own admission Thursday, the Jackson man was well enough to work, returning in 1999 to the tree service company that previously employed him.

That automatically made Smith, 59, ineligible for disability pay from the Social Security Administration. Instead of giving up those payments, though, he used his wife’s Social Security number to receive his paychecks, he acknowledged.

An anonymous tipster reported Smith to the Birmingham office of the inspector general, which sent an investigator to question him in 2003. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Anderson said Thursday that Smith denied in writing in October of that year that he had returned to work at A-1 Tree Service. His wife, Gennie West Smith, also told the investigator that she was not working.

Herman Smith pleaded guilty to conspiracy, concealment, false representation of Social Security number, theft and providing false statements to the Social Security Administration. Gennie Smith, 52, pleaded guilty to the first four of those counts.

“He couldn’t live off of what disability was paying him, so he went back to work,” said Herman Smith’s lawyer, Assistant Federal Defender Lyn Hillman. “They couldn’t support themselves.”

Anderson said Smith earned a total of $156,410 during the years 1999 through 2004. Over that period, he also pocketed $59,147 in disability benefits, Anderson said.