‘Cancer survivor’ lied to bilk taxpayers, build business
There’s something wrong with Maria Sanchez-Kountz. And it isn’t cancer.
Sanchez-Kountz, 36, received $103,000 in disability support payments and public medical assistance during a years-long fraud that saw her claim to be dying of ovarian cancer.
In truth, Sanchez-Kountz was abusing prescription painkillers, as well as the taxpayers. The former Steilacoom resident received about $1,600 a month in Social Security disability assistance during the four-year fraud.
Sanchez-Kountz convinced Social Security administrators and her own doctors that she had terminal cancer. She was prescribed pain pills – as her story went, she had given up on chemotherapy – and deemed unable to work.
In a letter to the court, Sanchez-Kountz asked U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle for leniency prior to being sentenced Monday to a 60-day term under house arrest.
“I am prepared to take responsibility for my actions and move forward as a productive member of society,” wrote Sanchez-Kountz, a seamstress now living in North Carolina.
Sanchez-Kountz was less prepared to admit her thefts when investigators came calling in July 2016.
Writing the court, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Diggs said Sanchez-Kountz initially lied to investigators. She came clean, Diggs said, only when shown irrefutable proof of her lie.
“There is something particularly sinister about faking cancer, which touches so many Americans and is the source of such trial and suffering for patients and their loved ones,” said Diggs, whose focus is Social Security Administration frauds. “Indeed, it is due to the nature of (Sanchez-Kountz’s) faked condition that she was approved for benefits so quickly when other applicants might wait months or even years.”
Diggs noted that Sanchez-Kountz claimed to be a “cancer survivor” while promoting her seamstress business.
Sanchez-Kountz began receiving public assistance in February 2012 after signing up for a program meant to assist workers who were losing income due to disabling conditions. She falsely claimed to have undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatments for ovarian cancer, which she falsely claimed had spread throughout her body.
Sanchez-Kountz, then a U.S. Army spouse, did not have cancer and had not been treated for cancer. Nonetheless, doctors paid by the Army to care for her prescribed her prescription narcotics meant to ease her pain.
By the time she was exposed, Sanchez-Kountz had received $81,367 in Social Security payments as well as $20,000 in unnecessary medical care from the Army. She agreed to repay those sums as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.
Sanchez-Kountz pleaded guilty to theft of public money shortly after she was charged in December. She has not been jailed in the matter.
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