HOUSTON – A 68-year-old legal permanent resident of Houston has been convicted of theft of public money, announced U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.
The jury deliberated for approximately 90 minutes before convicting Greek citizen Panagiota Tsigelis following a two-day trial on all 34 counts as charged.
The jury heard that Tsigelis collected benefits intended for a Social Security retiree. However, that individual had passed away in September 2008.
At trial, a Social Security claims representative explained that once a beneficiary passes away, their retirement benefits are supposed to cease. A records review in 2017 showed that the deceased individual was still receiving Social Security retirement benefits directly deposited into his checking account.
The jury also heard from a federal agent who led the investigation and from a local manager from J.P. Morgan Chase bank. According to testimony, Tsigelis claimed she was married to the individual in Greece before he passed away. She said she thought she was still eligible for the benefits as his surviving spouse.
However, she untimely admitted she was never married to him and fabricated relationship because she was scared.
At trial, the defense attempted to convince the jury Tsigelis simply did not understand the rules due to a language barrier and genuinely believed she was entitled to the money. The jury ultimately convicted her as charged.
U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison presided over the trial and set sentencing for June 7. At that time, she faces up to 20 years in federal prison. She could also face loss of her legal status in the United States.
Tsigelis was permitted to remain on bond pending that hearing.
The Social Security Administration – Office of Inspector General conducted the investigation. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin C. Sandel and Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas H. Carter prosecuted the case.