A West Hills man is accused of perpetuating the largest fraud among 22 defendants snared in a federal investigation that uncovered years-long thefts of Social Security benefits that resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in entitlement losses.

Jose Aguinaco Ugalde, 68, was indicted last week in Los Angeles on multiple counts of grand theft and identity theft, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced today.

He allegedly stole Retirement Insurance Benefits intended for his father, who had died, and his ex-stepmother. The entitlement thefts totaled more than $400,000, prosecutors allege.

A grand jury indictment was also obtained for a Los Angeles County sheriff’s sergeant, Vicki Lynn Gregory, who is accused of stealing her mother’s Widow’s Insurance Benefits, totaling $30,000.

“Government programs like Social Security provide important benefits to qualified individuals so they can have economic security,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker.

“We cannot tolerate abuse of the system that provides support to millions of honest Americans, many of whom worked their entire lives to receive Social Security,” she said. “This series of cases illustrates our commitment to root out abuse and fraud … and to protect the integrity of an important program aimed at helping senior citizens and the most vulnerable in our society.”

In addition to benefits theft charges, several defendants are accused of bank fraud, identity theft and related counts. Most of the defendants are from Los Angeles County, though one is a resident of Mexico.

A Social Security Administration employee, 38-year-old Daysi Salazar- Arias of Thousand Oaks, allegedly stole $8,907 by creating a bogus recipient of Childhood Disability Benefits, according to the eight-count indictment against her.

Investigations were handled by the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The defendants are free on their own recognizance and are slated to make initial court appearances next month. They could face upwards of five years in federal prison if convicted, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

–City News Service

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