There is a criminal case that is truly a reflection of our changing times. A 70-year-old transgender woman named Richelle Dee McDonald was convicted of stealing nearly $250,000 in federal disability benefits. What makes this different is that it was committed by both Richelle and Richard McDonald, who are one and the same. McDonald applied for benefits as a man while working simultaneously as a woman during much of the same period she was receiving SSI payments.
Here is how it worked. McDonald originally received a social security card at age 15 under her birth name of Richard Duncan McDonald and, in 1974, McDonald also received Supplemental Security Income benefits because of injuries suffered in a motor vehicle accident. Those payments went to a bank in California. In 1972, however, McDonald applied for a second social security number under her new name Richelle Dee McDonald. She underwent gender-reassignment surgery in 1981 and subsequently worked nearly 25 years as a janitor for a hospital chain in Oregon.
It was not until years later that federal officials tried to confirm her identity and noticed not just the similarity of names but the fact that Richelle Dee McDonald was exactly four years younger than Richard Duncan McDonald.
That seems like a prolonged, premeditated scheme to defraud the United States government. Yet, surprisingly, U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez did not sentence her to jail for a quarter of million dollars of stolen money. Instead, he handed down the remarkably light sentence of eight months of home confinement and three years of probation. The reason was what the court saw as her troubled background as a young adult. Yet, this fraud continued for years from age 15 to age 70. That seems like a considerable period to mitigate as a troubled childhood. For example, when she went back for the second social security number, she lied and said that she never received a card. She maintained a driver’s license in California and the bank account to continue to rip off the government.
In court, McDonald told Hernandez “I’m just sorry I did what I did.” Her court-appointed defense lawyer, C. Renée Manes did a terrific job in securing the deal with Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Helen L. Cooper.
McDonald previously signed over $30,000 to the government, but it would take 20 years for Social Security to recoup the losses. That does not seem a particularly good deal for the United States government.
What do you think?