Her grandfather passed away in Haiti in 2006, and her grandmother died there three years later.
But that didn’t stop their granddaughter, Myriam Etienne, from continuing to collect the grandparents’ monthly Social Security benefits as low-income recipients when they once lived in South Florida.
Etienne’s illegal haul of taxpayer-funded income over the past decade totaled $130,000, authorities say. She used some of the government money to pay her home mortgage and bills on a BMW X6.
On Wednesday, a federal jury in Fort Lauderdale found the 49-year-old Pompano Beach woman guilty of 90 counts of stealing government funds. U.S. District Judge James Cohn ordered Etienne into custody while she awaits sentencing.
According to trial evidence, Etienne received the Supplemental Security Income benefits for her grandparents as their representative since 2004. The Social Security Administration provides assistance to low-income people to help pay for food, housing, medical and clothing needs.
Etienne controlled the grandparents’ funds as a “representative payee,” and the income benefits were directly deposited every month into a joint bank account that she shared with them.
But after they died, Etienne “kept receiving their SSI benefits and did not report the deaths to the Social Security Administration,” according to the U.S. attorney’s office. She continued to sign accounting records that the government payments were being used for her grandparents, prosecutor Randy Katz said at trial.
According to an indictment, the monthly payments ranged from $698 in 2012 to $733 in 2016 for each of Etienne’s grandparents. She pocketed all of the money, the federal jury found.
Etienne now faces up to 10 years in prison on each of her 90 theft convictions and must pay back the government. Her sentencing is scheduled for April 5.