Granny Kills and Steals; She Killed Husband, Then Collected His Social Security Benefits
A federal grand jury indicted Opal Elaine Tillman in April 2017 for fraudulently claiming nearly $168,000 in Social Security widow’s benefits on the death of a husband she killed, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Robert O. Posey . A six-count indictment filed in U.S. District Court charges Opal Elaine Tillman, 71, with five counts of wire fraud for causing the SSA to wire benefit payments, which Tillman was not entitled to receive, to her account at Regions Bank in Jefferson County between May 2012 and September 2016. Count Six of the indictment charges Tillman with theft of government property for stealing more than $100,000 from the SSA. The indictment seeks to have Tillman forfeit $167,830 to the government.
According to the indictment, Tillman was convicted in Alabama in June 1988 for killing her husband, Walter R. Tillman, on March 1, 1987. The month he died, Opal Tillman applied for Social Security Title II benefits on her husband’s work record. Title II benefits encompass old age, survivor and disability insurance payments. In her application Tillman wrote a statement acknowledging that she understood that “if I am convicted of felonious homicide any social security monies I receive on Mr. Tillman’s Social security record will constitute an over-payment and I will be liable to repay this money,” according to the indictment. She then requested monthly benefits for her and her children to begin as soon as possible.
While Opal Tillman was in prison in November 1988, the SSA notified her of an over-payment of benefits and explained: “A person who has been convicted of the felonious and intentional homicide of a wage earner cannot be entitled to monthly benefits, underpayments, or the lump-sum death payment on the earnings record of that wage earner,” according to the indictment.
Opal Tillman was released from prison into the Jefferson County Community Corrections Program in December 1996.
In October 2009, she applied by telephone to the SSA for widow’s benefits on the work record of Walter Roderick Tillman, according to the indictment. Opal Tillman provided her deceased husband’s Social Security number, dates of birth and death, and verification of their marriage for the application, the indictment charges.
Opal Tillman began receiving benefits Nov. 9, 2009, on the work record of the man she killed, according to the indictment. The monthly benefits continued until Sept. 14, 2016.
The maximum penalty for wire fraud is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for theft of government property is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
An indictment contains only charges. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
In an unrelated case, Opal Elaine Tillman was arrested in 2015 on charges that she stole stole more than $60l,000 from an elderly couple she was supposed to be caring for. In that case, she pleaded guilty last month to financial exploitation of the elderly and was sentenced to 10 years in prison with 18 months to serve.
While Tillman was in prison in November 1988, the SSA notified her of an overpayment of benefits. They explained to her, “A person who has been convicted of the felonious and intentional homicide of a wage earner cannot be entitled to monthly benefits, underpayments, or the lump-sum death payment on the earnings record of that wage earner.”
Tillman was sentenced to 35 years in prison for her husband’s death, but in December 1996 was released from prison into the Jefferson County Community Corrections program.
In 2009, federal authorities say, she applied by telephone to the SSA for widow’s benefits on the work record of her dead husband. For the application, she provided his Social Security number, dates of birth and death, and verification of their marriage. She began receiving those benefits on Nov. 9, 2009 on the work record of the man she killed, according to the indictment. Those monthly payments continued until Sept. 14, 2016.
The maximum penalty for wire fraud is 20 years in prison and a $250.000 fine. The maximum penalty for theft of government property is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Two years ago, Tillman was working as a housekeeper and caregiver for an elderly Jefferson County couple. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office received a complaint that she had stolen cash and property from an 87-year-old woman and her husband.
Family members told investigators they had noticed several suspicious transactions on the victims’ checking account. Tillman had been working as a housekeeper for the victims in 2011 on a part-time basis, but had taken on more responsibilities as the wife’s health declined.
In all, authorities said, Tillman stole more than $60l,000 from the couple. “I think there is a special place for people that take advantage of our senior citizens, most especially those placed in a position of trust,” Jefferson County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Randy Christian said at the time.
Tillman pleaded guilty to those charges on April 4, 2017. She is currently listed as an inmate at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women. Her parole on the murder charge has been revoked. Her minimum release date is 2023, but she will come up for a parole hearing next year on the state charges.
A trial date on the new, federal charges has not been announced.