A woman who lived with her mummified mother for more than a year admitted today that she’d cashed her Social Security checks for nearly a year after her death.
Gail Andrews, 63, of south Fort Myers, pleaded guilty to theft of government property and failing to disclose an event, a death that affected how much money Gladys Andrews would have received in Social Security Administration Retirement Benefits payments and Survivor’s Benefits.
At an hourlong hearing in Fort Myers, Andrews told U.S. District Court Magistrate Sheri Polster Chappel that her 87-year-old mother died in April 2009, not March 2006, as the government alleges.
“My mother passed away and I did not report that she passed away,” Andrews told the magistrate.
She used the money for basic daily household expenses, she said, adding that she did not intend to do it for a long time.
“There were many extenuating circumstances,” Andrews said of continuing to receive her mothers’ benefits. “… There were many, many details that will explain that.”
Andrews’ federal public defender, Martin Der Ovanesian, told the magistrate they would be disputing the amount that prosecutors say she received.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Michelland said the amount the government contends was stolen was $52,308.70, which is based on the government’s contention that Gladys Andrews died in March 2006.
Chappell, who spent nearly an hour ensuring Andrews understood the ramifications of pleading, said she’d recommend that U.S. District Judge Charlene Honeywell accept the guilty pleas. She ordered a presentence report be conducted by the probation office, which will weigh Andrews’ lack of a criminal record and other factors and recommend a sentence.
Andrews faces up to 10 years in federal prison on the theft charge and five years on the failure to disclose offense, three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine on each count listed in her 2010 indictment. She’ll also have to repay the government what she stole.
No sentencing date was set and Andrews curtly declined comment as she left.
Der Ovanesian said only, “I don’t know where they pulled that number from,” referring to the date of death and the amount of benefits.
Andrews’ case was exposed in June 2010, when Lee County sheriff’s deputies found the badly decomposed body hidden in a bedroom underneath 2-foot-high piles of trash littering her St. Andrews Circle home after a wellness check. That check was prompted by concerned neighbors, who hadn’t seen Gladys Andrews in years and complained about rats, cats, trash and odors coming from the rundown home.
Since that time, various businesses have donated time and supplies to her effort to remain in the 2,416-square-foot house she’d shared with her mother and father, Andrew John Andrews, who died in 1999 at 83. His widow then received survivor’s benefits, which Gail Andrews then took.
Andrews, a Lee County teacher for 20 years, has said things piled up in the home after she left her job to care for her ailing parents. She has said her mother fell making her bed, couldn’t get up and she couldn’t lift her. So she placed pillows and blankets on the floor, but she died two days later.
Fearing she’d be thrown out of the home she’d lived in for 36 years, she kept it a secret. She initially told deputies her mother was visiting relatives in Connecticut, but armed with a search warrant a week later, deputies found the skeleton bundled in blankets.