Home News California Man Hid Mother’s Death for 3 Decades to Collect Her Benefits

California Man Hid Mother’s Death for 3 Decades to Collect Her Benefits

California Man Hid Mother’s Death for 3 Decades to Collect Her Benefits

A California man has admitted that he hid his mother’s death from the federal government for over three decades so that he could collect more than $800,000 in benefits intended for her, prosecutors said.

The man, Donald Felix Zampach, 65, pleaded guilty last week in U.S. District Court in San Diego to one count of money laundering and one count of social security fraud.

None of the $830,238 that Mr. Zampach received under the scheme would have been paid out had the different government agencies been made aware of her death, prosecutors said. Mr. Zampach also took possession of his mother’s home in Poway, Calif., while it was still in her name.

The charges to which Mr. Zampach pleaded guilty carry a total maximum prison sentence of 25 years, but federal sentencing guidelines would most likely put his sentence somewhere in the 30- to 37-month range since he has no known prior criminal history, according to Jeffrey D. Hill, a special assistant U.S. attorney.

Mr. Zampach is out on bail and awaiting sentencing on Sept. 20.

“He is overwhelmed with regret,” Knut Johnson, Mr. Zampach’s lawyer, said in an email.

As part of his plea deal, Mr. Zampach has agreed to forfeit more than $830,000, including his home, to pay restitution to a dozen victims, including several lenders with whom he opened lines of credit while purporting to be his mother, prosecutors said. Those lenders lost more than $28,000 because of Mr. Zampach’s actions, prosecutors said.

Mr. Zampach’s mother, who was identified in court documents only with the initials S.T.Z., died on Oct. 22, 1990, in Japan after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and moved to her native country from the United States, court documents show. She was 61 when she died, according to Mr. Hill, and would have been 93 were she alive today.

The bulk of the money Mr. Zampach obtained came from monthly payments by the Social Security Administration, and from an annuity paid by the Defense Finance Accounting Service, which pays benefits to survivors of military veterans. His mother’s spouse had been a U.S. Navy veteran, according to Mr. Hill. Mr. Zampach received $253,714 from the Social Security Administation and $563,626 from the Defense Finance Accounting Service.

Mr. Zampach’s scheme to collect his mother’s benefits began shortly after her death, according to court documents.

In November 1990, Mr. Zampach submitted a form notifying the American Embassy in Tokyo of her death, but left blank a box on the form asking for her Social Security number, prosecutors said. When he returned to the United States with his mother’s remains, he also omitted her Social Security number from an application for a burial permit.

Mr. Zampach admitted that both omissions were intended to conceal his mother’s death from government agencies so that he could receive her benefits. He kept up the ruse until September 2022, forging her signature on government documents to keep the payments flowing. Some years, he filed income tax returns in her name.

But Mr. Zampach’s scheme began to unravel when his mother became the focus of a Social Security Administration audit of people 90 or older who had not used their Medicare benefits. The audit verifies whether those people are still alive.

In June 2022, Mr. Zampach lied to an investigator with the Social Security Administration, saying that “his mother was alive and in Japan,” according to the plea deal.

As part of the conditions of his pre-sentence release, Mr. Zampach, who says that he has dementia and auditory and visual hallucinations, must seek psychiatric or psychological treatment, court documents show.


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