Woman convicted for collecting Social Security benefits from dead man for 12 years in Houston

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A woman has been convicted of theft of public money after collecting Social Security benefits from a dead man since 2008, investigators say.

Panagiota Tsigelis, a Greek citizen who is a legal permanent resident of Houston, collected benefits intended for a Social Security retiree from a man who died in 2008, according to U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.

After a two-day trial, the jury deliberated for 90 minutes and convicted the 68-year-old on all 34 counts as charged.

At trial, a Social Security claims representative explained that once a beneficiary passes away, their retirement benefits are supposed to cease.

A records review in 2017 showed that the deceased man was still receiving Social Security retirement benefits directly deposited into his checking account.

The jury also heard from a federal agent who led the investigation and from a local manager from J.P. Morgan Chase bank.

According to testimony, Tsigelis claimed she was married to the individual in Greece before he died. She said she thought she was still eligible for the benefits as his surviving spouse, according to Lowery.

However, she ultimately admitted she was never married to him and fabricated relationship because she was scared, according to Lowery.

At trial, Tsigelis argued she did not understand the rules due to a language barrier and genuinely believed she was entitled to the money. The jury ultimately convicted her as charged.

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison presided over the trial and set sentencing for June 7. Tsigelis faces up to 20 years in federal prison. She could also face loss of her legal status in the United States.

Tsigelis was permitted to remain on bond pending that hearing.

The Social Security Administration - Office of Inspector General conducted the investigation. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin C. Sandel and Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas H. Carter prosecuted the case.
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