Ellsworth woman gets 14 months for stealing brother’s disability checks

Posted Dec. 13, 2010, at 12:24 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:31 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A federal judge told an Ellsworth woman Monday when he sentenced her for stealing her brother’s disability checks that she also stole from taxpayers.

“The first and most obvious person you stole from was your brother,” U.S. District Judge John Woodcock told Jessica Sawyer, 29. “Second, you stole from the government, and when you steal from the government, you steal from all of us.”

Woodcock sentenced Sawyer to 14 months in federal prison for theft of government money between March 2007 and October 2009. The judge also sentenced her to three years of supervised release and ordered her to pay $35,430 in restitution to the Social Security Administration.

Her brother, who has cerebral palsy, did not attend the sentencing. The judge said the man had submitted a victim impact statement, which was not made public.

Sawyer was indicted in May by a federal grand jury on the theft count and 22 counts of mail fraud — one count for each disability check that was intended for her brother. She pleaded guilty to the theft charge in July. The mail fraud counts were dismissed after she was sentenced Monday.

“I accept full responsibility,” a crying Sawyer told Woodcock. “I know the pain that I have caused my family. I’ve done something horrible. It was the worst decision I made in my life.”

Sawyer remains free on $5,000 unsecured bond. She was ordered to report to prison on Jan. 14 to give her time to deal with her own medical problems.

Using information provided by U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services, Woodcock said that in 2004 Sawyer had been sentenced to two years in the Hancock County jail with all but four months suspended for aggravated theft from a former employer. Sawyer was ordered to pay more than $3,700 restitution in that case but has not repaid it all, the judge said Monday.

“There is a lot about this crime and your life that is troubling,” Woodcock told Sawyer just before imposing her sentence. “You have what seems to me an inexplicable moral blind spot. You seem willing to cheat individuals to whom you owe trust.”

Sawyer’s now 28-year-old brother resided with Sawyer in Lamoine in late 2006 when he first applied for disability. A short time later, according to court documents, the two had an argument and he moved to Florida. In March 2007, the checks, which included benefits for previous months, began arriving in Sawyer’s mailbox.

The theft came to the attention of workers at the Social Security Administration in September 2009 when Sawyer’s brother applied for disability a second time, according to court documents.

Woodcock said Monday that because Sawyer did not forward the disability checks, her brother was forced to work more hours than he should have because of his medical condition. Working 40 hours a week or more when he was not receiving disability caused him to almost lose a foot, the judge said.

Sawyer faced up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Under the prevailing federal sentencing guidelines, she faced between eight and 14 months in federal prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Torresen urged Woodcock to send Sawyer to prison for 14 months. Federal Public Defender Virginia Villa argued for a lesser sentence and suggested her client serve a year in prison.

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