Bernadette Russell, a 55-year-old resident of Buffalo, pleaded guilty to grand larceny for stealing over $54,715 in state pension payments intended for her late grandmother.
State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn announced the conviction today. Russell’s crime involved concealing her grandmother’s death to illicitly claim pension funds from the state retirement system.
Russell’s scheme was uncovered following a suspicious phone call to the Comptroller’s Office. The call, purportedly from her deceased grandmother Lorraine Stenclik, inquired about a missed pension payment in July 2022. The number from which the call was made was registered to Russell. Stenclik, a former City of Buffalo retiree, passed away in October 2019, but her family did not notify the state retirement system of her death. As a result, the pension payments continued until July 2022, accumulating to 33 monthly deposits in Stenclik’s bank account.
Investigations revealed multiple ATM withdrawals using Stenclik’s debit card and payments from her account to Russell’s utility bills. Comptroller DiNapoli stressed the importance of their continued efforts to prevent fraud against the state pension system, while District Attorney Flynn emphasized the crime’s impact on New York taxpayers. Russell is scheduled for sentencing on February 8, 2024, in Erie County Court before Judge Paul Wojtaszek.
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