Con Man Fakes Alzheimer’s, Ditches his Family and Lives like a King

James Smith, Alzheimer's Con Man
James Smith, Alzheimer’s Con Man

 

I ran across this remarkable true story this week on Bob Demarco’s site, The Alzheimer’s Reading Room. I don’t know Bob but I applaud the work he does to help raise awareness of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), the scourge that decimates millions of people each year.

The story concerns a fellow named James Smith and the intricate scam he devised to draw long term disability insurance benefits and payments through the Social Security program.

Dan Browning of the Minneapolis Star Tribune broke the story, and you can read his article here.  Here are a few paragraphs.

As it turns out, though, Smith didn’t have dementia at all. He faked it to qualify for disability insurance and will soon be sentenced by U.S. District Judge John Tunheim for defrauding the government.

Prosecutors contend that between 2006 and August 2010, Smith defrauded taxpayers out of $144,293.40. The government also says he collected more than $300,000 from Met Life for disability insurance.

A federal grand jury in Minneapolis indicted Smith in April on one count of theft of government funds, and three counts of concealing information from the Social Security Administration. He pleaded guilty in August to the theft charge.

“It’s an amazing case,” said Dr. David S. Knopman, a Mayo Clinic neurologist who diagnosed Smith as having Alzheimer’s in 2005. “I have some strong feelings about this,” he said. He declined to say more, citing patient confidentiality. Smith’s attorney declined to comment before the sentencing.

Just to be sure you caught that, I would emphasize that Smith was not someone who faked AD by making lay people believe his memory was evaporating.  He went much farther than that.  He received a full battery of tests at the Mayo Clinic. Armed with a medical opinion from a premier clinic that he had AD, he took the show on the road and became the poster boy for the Alzheimer’s Association, spreading the word about his condition while drawing close to half a  million dollars in benefits.

There are some sorry people in the world, but James Smith may take the cake.

As many of you who follow my blog know, I have seen Alzheimer’s up close and personal in my mother who succumbed from it in 2005.  I have also spent a lot of time in AD support group meetings and in fellowship with persons with Alzheimer’s.

The saddest part of this sordid ordeal is that it is the persons with Alzheimer’s, their caregivers and all the good folks in the AD community who will most be damaged by it. AD is a hidden disease.  For it to come out in the open because a depraved con man preyed on people’s good will is appalling.

James Smith should be horse-whipped.

(Stephen Woodfin is an attorney and author.  His book The Warrior With Alzheimer’s: The Battle for Justice is a legal thriller about a WWII vet with Alzheimer’s who goes on the run and encounters the American criminal justice system, which is ill-equipped to deal with AD.)

Woody book

 

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  • It would be interesting to know how they caught onto his fraud. One of my classmates worked his way through law school as a private investigator and I went out of state with him on one occasion to track down a man who had won a claim for disability. He had been injured while working on the Chesapeake Bay bridge. After a few days observing this man at his home in rural West Virginia, my friend photographed him picking up a large refrigerator and moving it across his front porch. You would have to think that some investigator was tipped off to this AD scam.

    • I’m not sure exactly who tipped them off, but the newspaper report makes it sound like a number of people had grown suspicious of his charade. He apparently was good at faking it when he knew someone was watching, but would let his guard down in other circumstances.

  • What James Smith did is an abomination and high insult to sufferers of Alzheimers and their caregivers. I hope he gets his just desserts.

    • Jo, he has pleaded guilty to the theft charge, but has not been sentenced yet. I guess we will have to see how that plays out for him.

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