Illegal Immigrants Sentenced for Fraudulently Receiving Thousands in Benefits

Illegal Immigrants Sentenced for Fraudulently Receiving Thousands in Benefits
A store advertizes its acceptance of electronic benefit transfer cards in New York City on June 6, 2019. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)
Charlotte Cuthbertson

WASHINGTON—A Guatemalan woman, who was living illegally in the United States, has been sentenced for benefit fraud—specifically for receiving more than $19,900 in overpayment of food stamps and other U.S. welfare benefits, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Cleotilde Puac-Gomez, 46, was sentenced to two months in federal prison for failing to report her husband’s income when she applied for, and received, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid benefits between June 2012 and November 2017.

Puac-Gomez was living in Clarion, Iowa, with her husband, Melvin Rodriguez-Barrios, who is also an illegal alien. Rodriguez-Barrios was working under an alias and used someone else’s Social Security number to obtain work. He was sentenced on March 27 to six months in prison.

ICE said Puac-Gomez was ordered to pay back $19,908.30 to the state of Iowa and will serve a three-year supervised release after her prison term.

The couple may be deported after their prison terms, according to ICE public affairs officer Shawn Neudauer.

“This release is only noting the criminal conviction and sentence. Immigration proceedings are separate from, and take place in a different venue than U.S. District Court,” Neudauer said via email.

39 Million Mismatches

Data obtained from the Social Security Administration revealed 39 million instances in which names and Social Security numbers on W-2 forms didn’t match corresponding Social Security records, according to a report by the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) published on Sept. 11, 2018.

The IRLI said the cases occurred between 2012 and 2016, after former President Barack Obama stopped the practice of sending “no match” letters to employers, in cases where the name and Social Security number don’t match up on W-2 forms.

The IRLI points to illegal immigrants as the main culprits.

“Importantly, the Obama administration decided to discontinue the decades-old practice of ‘no-match’ letters within eight days after it implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) amnesty for illegal aliens,” the IRLI said. “Some have said that Obama did this because he didn’t want DACA applicants scared off from the program, for fear of identity-theft prosecution.”

The Trump administration announced that it would resume sending notifications to employers if a mismatch on a W-2 form is discovered.

 Pedestrians walk past the Social Security Administration office in downtown Los Angeles, on Oct. 1, 2013. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Pedestrians walk past the Social Security Administration office in downtown Los Angeles, on Oct. 1, 2013. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

$242,000 in Benefits

In March, an 83-year-old Mexican man was sentenced on multiple charges, including identity theft, lying on a passport application, falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen, and fraudulently receiving more than $242,000 in Social Security retirement benefits, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Tucson.
Ruben Valenzuela-Cota was arrested in Tucson, Arizona, last July. He had lived and worked illegally in California for years, using a stolen Social Security number, and collected Social Security while living in Mexico.

Identity Theft

An illegal alien from Guatemala was sentenced on June 5 to more than two years in federal prison for identity theft and a false claim of U.S. citizenship, according to ICE.

Sebastian Velasquez-Ramos, 47, was living in Omaha, Nebraska, where he used a false Social Security number, and falsely claimed that he was a U.S. citizen to obtain employment.

Velasquez-Ramos is currently in prison for leaving the scene of a fatal multi-vehicle crash, according to ICE. In April 2018, he fatally hit a motorcyclist in Omaha and left the scene of the crash.

Charlotte Cuthbertson is a senior reporter with The Epoch Times who primarily covers border security and the opioid crisis.