BANGOR, Maine — An Eddington woman who collected more than $45,000 in Social Security benefits for seven years after her disabled daughter was removed from her care was sentenced Friday in federal court to one month in prison followed by five months of home confinement.
Felicia M. Brooks, 48, also was sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to repay $45,441 to the government. Under federal law, restitution is mandatory.
U.S. District Judge John Woodcock ordered her to report to prison on Nov. 7. The delay will give the U.S. Bureau of Prisons time to determine where she will serve her sentence.
“When you take money from the government, you take money from all of us,” Woodcock told the crying defendant. “A lot of people in this country struggle to pay their taxes, but they pay them. For you to take from the government means you take from those who struggle, but do the right thing.”
Brooks faced up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Under the federal sentencing guidelines, the recommended sentence was between six and 12 months in federal prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Moore asked the judge to impose a seven-month sentence. Virginia Villa, the federal public defender who represented Brooks, urged Woodcock not to impose jail time because of the defendant’s mental health problems. The defense attorney said that Brooks’ mental health diagnosis made it very difficult, if not impossible, for her to admit that she had lost custody of her child.
“She maintains a room for her daughter in her home,” Villa told Woodcock. “She has an inability to accept that her daughter is not in her care.”
Brooks’ child began receiving benefits in 1998, the same year her parents divorced. She was removed from her mother’s custody by the Maine Department of Human Services in June 2000. The exact reason for the removal was not explained in court papers.
Brooks continued to receive and spend disability benefits for her developmentally disabled daughter, now 17, through mid-April 2007. Brooks did not regain custody of her daughter, according to court documents.
By pleading guilty in May to the fraudulent conversion of Social Security benefits, Brooks admitted that she had lied to the Social Security Administration about where her daughter was living.
Brooks, who receives Social Security benefits herself because of mental health issues, was convicted in 1996 in state court of theft and other charges in a similar incident. She told a DHS worker then that she had not received a welfare check that she in fact already had cashed. Brooks was issued a replacement check that she also cashed. She was sentenced to community service by a District Court judge in Skowhegan.
“I know you have your own problems,” Woodcock told Brooks in imposing the federal sentence. “If not for your special circumstances, I would have imposed what the government asked.”