EXCLUSIVE: $500K in state pension benefits paid out to dead people

EXCLUSIVE: Dead get $500K in state pension benefits
Published: Oct. 29, 2015 at 2:43 AM HST|Updated: Oct. 29, 2015 at 3:57 AM HST
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Kelii Akina
Kelii Akina

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A public policy think tank says the state Employee Retirement System has paid out more than $500,000 in public pension benefits to dead people.

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii said the payments cover a five-year period and that the largest individual payout was over $50,000.

"We were astounded. We discovered that there were 130 cases in which the state government continued to pay $500,000," said Kelii Akina, chief executive officer of the group.

Some of the payments were accidental and some recipients are reimbursing the state for the overpayments.

But several cases apparently involve fraud.

Hawaii News Now has learned that the state Attorney General's criminal team has investigated about half a dozen cases involving ERS overpayments.

Akina said he believes the problems at the ERS are just the tip of the iceberg.

He suspects that hundreds more are improperly collecting dead people's workers compensation benefits, disability checks and even medical reimbursements.

One recent case of fraud involved 61-year-old Harold Robertson, of Aiea, who pleaded guilty to theft last month for stealing his mother's medical care reimbursements. Although his mother, Elizabeth Donlin, died in 2007, Robertson received 17 of her checks over a four-year period.

Some of the fraud goes undetected for years.

Steven Splater, of Salt Lake, served five months in jail after pleading guilty to stealing his dead mother's disability payments for more than a decade.

Lynsie Williams, of California, got 21 months in jail for taking nearly $400,000 in state workers compensation benefits meant for her deceased father. Her fraud went undetected for more than two decades.

The state has hired a national company to find out whether a retiree has died and now reviews obituaries in the local newspapers.

But Akina believes that more has to be done.

"The first thing that needs to be done is accountability. People administering these funds need to be held responsible for guarding them," Akina said.

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