Lisa Waldron, the mother accused of murdering her son Jordan Brooks as he battled cerebral palsy, is now facing federal charges for allegedly stealing thousands of dollars in social security benefits originally intended for Jordan. The Social Security Administration continued to send checks to the Waldrons for 11 months after Jordan died, even though his death was properly documented at the local level and widely publicized.
“Things do fall through the system where it isn’t automatically caught, and they continue to issue those checks,” said legal expert Ryan McCall.
McCall, an attorney with Tully Rinckey PLLC, said that he isn’t surprised this happened. He said its highly unlikely Waldron herself properly notifed SSA that her son, the named beneficiary, had died; from there, he said any number of things may have gone wrong internally for SSA to continue to send money.
According to U.S. Attorneys, Waldron misused $7,344.70 from January of 2020 to April of 2021 while Jordan was still alive; prosecutors also accuse her of stealing $5,948.06 that SSA sent from June 2021 to April 2022 after Jordan died.
According to a spokesperson for Onondaga County, the county Medical Examiner – who handled the autopsy – properly reported Jordan’s death in May of 2021. A spokesperson for the New York State Department of Health confirmed that the DOH also sent the death record information pertaining to Jordan Brooks directly to the SSA.
Experts said that SSA should have had clear documentation that Jordan was no longer alive. We first reached out to SSA on Monday, and have yet to hear back.
This is not an isolated incident: in September, the Office of the Inspector General submitted an audit with recommendations to improve SSA’s death notification systems after finding that as of September 2021, the agency had been paying 1,300 beneficiaries for months or years “after it received and recorded their death information.”
The Office of the Inspector General estimated that it meant SSA had issued $14 million in payments to people who were dead. As of August of 2022, the audit notes that SSA had resolved most of the pending alerts.
Bruce Entelisano, an attorney with Passalacqua Associates specializing in SSA beneficiary representation, said that while this happens, it’s relatively rare. He noted that the SSA only spends about 1% of its budget on fraud investigation, and 1,300 is a fraction of the millions who make use of the agency’s services each year.
In July of 2022, the agency made updates to streamline death reporting information and automatically link those reports to payment systems. According to Entelisano, that will likely fix these issues going forward, and is likely what caught the alleged fraud being committed by Waldron.
“What the government accountability office had seen is Social Security may have become aware through the proper reporting channels of somebody’s passing, but the payment system which is kind of separate from the rest of the bureaucracy wasn’t being properly communicated,” said Entelisano.
Brooks lived with Cerebral Palsy and was just 55 pounds when he died from neglect in May 2021. Authorities said Brooks was found with exposed bones and sores covering his body and with a useless rusty urine-stained wheelchair with a moldy seat. Lisa and Anthony Waldron were initially arrested on negligent homicide charges, upgraded to second degree murder by a grand jury over the summer.
Court documents and a state report revealed that the Oswego County Department of Social Services failed to properly intervene on Brooks’ behalf. A report uncovered from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services found Oswego County’s Department of Social Services did not fully investigate at least two claims of abuse made on behalf of a 17-year-old with cerebral palsy who died from suspected neglect.
The Oswego County Legislature Chairman, Jim Weatherup, said that an audit of how the county social services department operates should be complete by the end of 2022. He said that an independent investigation authorized by the county into how DSS handled the Brooks case won’t conclude until after the criminal proceedings wrap up; Anthony Waldron is due in court April 10, while Lisa Waldron won’t have a trial date set until after motion arguments are heard in January, according to DA Greg Oakes.