Friday, October 26, 2012

The Welfare Queens of North Oaks

You know the classic Reagan welfare queen story? The Gipper was fond of telling about her during the 1976 presidential campaign with details like these: "She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.” Reagan's welfare queen was black, of course.

In actuality, the woman he was talking about (Linda Taylor of Chicago) had exactly four aliases and cheated the government out of $8,000.

And she was caught.

Today's Star Tribune brought us a story about what big-time individual cheaters really look like: They're white, middle or upper class, and think the government owes them something because they have disabled children. Meet James and Cynthia Hood, who live in this house:

Aerial photo of very large suburban house surrounded by woods
Let's run the timeline, based on public information.

  • James Hood is born in 1942 or 1943 (he's now 69).
  • Cynthia Hood (maiden name unknown) is born in 1956 or 1957 (she's now 55).
  • James receives a Ph.D. in history from Princeton in 1969.
  • He's hired as a history professor at Tulane University, New Orleans, in 1970. His specialty is France after 1750, particularly revolutions. He teaches at Tulane until 2008, so that means he got tenure.
  • At some point James and Cynthia marry, but since she's 14 years his junior, it wasn't until at least the later 1970s.
  • They have triplet boys in 1998 when she is 41 and he is 55. (Nonfact-based assumption: I think it's likely the triplets did not arrive through typical fertilization and implantation methods. More likely, they were implanted after in vitro fertilization, where multiple embryos are implanted to get a better chance at one of them being born. In many cases, however, multiple births result, with an increased risk of complications at birth and post-birth.)
  • As the three boys grow, James and Cynthia realize that two of them have significant physical or mental delays, one with quadriplegic cerebral palsy and one with autism.
  • In 2005 through early 2006, after Hurricane Katrina, the family moves to Minnesota. James and Cynthia claim their house in NOLA is uninhabitable and they are classified as displaced. Somehow, though, their house is listed for sale at $278,000.
  • They buy a large house on a wooded lot in North Oaks, a St. Paul suburb known for its restrictive covenants and private roads. They pay $865,000 in cash for the house.
  • In 2006, James begins preparing "incomplete and false tax forms that Cynthia signed." The reports didn't include mention of significant portions of their holdings.
  • At some point, they came to own a farm in Iowa, for which they receive federal farm subsidies.
  • At some point, they or James open 30+ interest-bearing bank accounts, which generated over $117,000 in interest in 2007 alone. James also has stocks with dividend income of at least $156,000.
  • At some points along the way, they also received "significant gifts from family trusts."
  • James retires from Tulane in 2008. He has over a million dollars in a retirement account.
  • In 2010, Cynthia files paperwork with the Social Security Association claiming she is the sole support of her children and has only $1,400 in the bank, despite the fact that James was living in their home and providing support. Cynthia is cosigned on at least 16 of their joint bank accounts.
Because of their lies, the Hoods received almost $370,000 in state and federal Medicaid benefits for their children between 2006 and 2011. They also took in more than $80,000 from Social Security.

And they got caught, which is some consolation to us all.

They pleaded guilty on Wednesday, Oct. 24, to a range of charges and have agreed to repay the $483,000 they stole from their fellow taxpayers. But get this -- they have the money available as cash on hand to repay us. Maybe they are just money hoarders.

Their lawyer hopes her clients can be spared prison time "given the responsibilities they have for their disabled children."

What do you do in a situation like this? Put the parents in prison and the boys into foster care, adding more financial burden to the taxpayer? Do you let them off with just the public shaming they've had? Don't you at least fine them over and above the amount they stole?

And the final question that nags me is this:

If this were a black family, would we hear about their actions for decades to come, exaggerated beyond the already-staggering scale of it all? I think we would.


Gina said...

Wow, and people complain about the federal deficit! These people contributed to it as much as Obama, me thinks.....

RN st. paul said...

Shame shame shame on both of you... you sicken me. You should pay back every penny and both go to jail... karma will get you.