State

Feds: Ceres man stole social security money

FRESNO — A Ceres man is accused of spending more than $200,000 in social security benefits that were intended for a person who died in 1988, authorities said Monday.

Charles Francis Sheppard was arrested this morning and pleaded not guilty during an arraignment in federal court in Fresno on Monday afternoon, according to the Department of Justice.

According to a court document, Sheppard jointly shared a checking account with Florence Eakin. He was referred to as a “friend” of Eakin’s.

In September 1988, the 82-year-old Eakin died. At that time, her Social Security benefits were supposed to end.

Sheppard, who turned 66 last week, was listed as an “informant” on Eakin’s death certificate, and provided the county recorder with her personal information, according to court document.

However, Social Security was not notified of Eakin’s death, and the benefits kept rolling in.

According to the Social Security Web site, when a person dies, a family member or person responsible for the beneficiary’s affairs should notify the agency and notify the bank if the benefits were sent direct deposit. If they were sent by checks, the checks should be returned.

According to the court document, Sheppard continued to use the monthly benefits — $212,109.88 over 21 years — for personal use until the benefits stopped in November 2009.

The court document did not state why the benefits were stopped.

Sheppard could not be reached for comment on Monday. A phone number listed to him at a Ceres address was disconnected.

Sheppard has been charged with theft of government property for receiving retirement benefits to which he was not entitled.

If convicted, he faces a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both. A conviction also will require to Sheppard to forfeit money or property to pay back Social Security.

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