US v. Kiza: Social Security survivor’s benefits are benefits paid to eligible surviving spouses and children, and they come from a trust fund established by Congress. To oversee the trust, Congress created a Board of Trustees that reports to Congress on its operation and “actuarial status,” recommends improvements to its administration, and notifies Congress when the amounts in the fund grew too small.
In this case, Kiza began receiving survivor’s benefits as the representative payee for his two children, after representing to the Social Security Administration that his minor children were entitled to benefits upon the death of their father. Except he wasn’t dead, just created a fake identity, his “twin brother.” In total, Kiza received survivor’s benefits around $51,860.
Kiza was indicted for theft of government property and he went to trial. The jury found Kiza guilty of the sole charge against him. He appealed, arguing that the survivor’s benefits were not “things of value.” In Kiza’s argument, the benefits he received from the trust were money from individual citizens, not money from the U.S. Government. The Fourth Circuit agreed with the government’s position that the money originated from the government, were regulated and accounted for by the government, so the benefits were a thing of value. The Fourth Circuit upheld the verdict against him.