Man gets prison time for faking citizenship, stealing $350K in benefits

SAN DIEGO — A Mexican national who admitted stealing more than $350,000 in government benefits from federal, state and local agencies while impersonating an American citizen for more than three decades was sentenced in San Diego Friday to just over three years in federal prison.

While handing down the 37-month custody term to Tijuana resident Andres Avelino Anduaga, a federal judge also ordered him to repay $360,908.85 in restitution to the Social Security Administration, the California Department of Health Care Services and the county of San Diego.

In 1980, Anduaga, already a convicted felon, used a birth certificate belonging to a U.S. citizen to obtain a California driver’s license and a Social Security card, then used his new false identity to commit a variety of crimes over the next 22 years, according to court documents.

As he conceded in his plea agreement, Anduaga used the stolen identity to apply for disability benefits from the SSA in 1989.

Through 2016, the defendant received nearly $250,000 in illicit Social Security benefits, according to prosecutors. As a result, he also got MediCal health benefits that he was not eligible for and caused a loss to the state of California in excess of $100,000, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Even after his Social Security was terminated in 2016, Anduaga signed up for CalFresh/Supplemental Nutrition benefits and continued to receive those benefits until his arrest last November, court papers show.

In addition to theft of public property, U.S. District Judge John Houston sentenced Anduaga for being in the United States illegally.

Anduaga admitted that, despite twice being deported as “Jose Reyes” in 1994 and 2000, he was able to return and travel freely between the United States and Mexico using a U.S. passport that he obtained via the same stolen identity he used to defraud public assistance programs.

“The theft of Social Security benefits is a direct attack on the most vulnerable and needy members of our community,” San Diego-area U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman said. “Every dollar stolen through this kind of fraud reduces the funds available to our retirees and other worthy beneficiaries.”