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With a round pool in the backyard, a Mercedes and a boat in the driveway and a greenhouse and an aviary nearby, the Florida house doesn’t look like it was owned by someone who qualified for public assistance.
But it was.
While living the life of luxury on a 1-acre manicured lot, Gloria Valle-Clas collected between $305,000 and $377,000 in food stamps, housing assistance and Medicaid benefits. Using two separate Social Security numbers and as many as 12 aliases, she duped government agencies into sending her monthly assistance checks and picking up her medical bills for nearly a decade.
“Conduct like this should incense all Americans,” U.S. District Judge Kenneth Ryskamp said Thursday. “To be ripping off our government — every agency by every means possible.”
While her attorney Gregg Lerman suggested a roughly 3 1/2-year sentence, Ryskamp said that wasn’t enough. He tacked on roughly another year.
“I just think this is about as low as it gets,” Ryskamp said in sentencing Valle-Clas to 51 months in prison, the maximum allowed under federal rules. He also ordered her to pay $283,359 in restitution.
Her 41-year-old husband, who benefited from his spouse’s schemes but played a minor role in them, was shown some mercy. Alexander Gonzalez was sentenced to 364 days in prison and ordered to repay the government $9,999.
His attorney Jonathan Friedman said a sentence of less than a year may help persuade an immigration judge to allow Gonzalez, who is in the country legally, to remain in the United States after he completes his prison term.
The sophisticated scheme began in 2003 when Valle-Clas persuaded the Broward County Housing Authority to give her monthly checks to live in two homes she owned in North Lauderdale. Later, by again lying about her marital status, her bank accounts and her ownership of businesses, including a printing company, she got the Boca Raton Housing Authority to pay her rent to live in the Loxahatchee, Fla., home, according to court documents.
The truth was, she had plenty of money, she said. Not only did the couple live off their fraudulently obtained government checks, but they pocketed $200,000 when they sold the homes in North Lauderdale. Further, when Valle-Clas persuaded a bank to give her a $200,000 line of credit, she defaulted on $145,000, Bell said.
To emphasize Valle-Clas’ cunning, she showed Ryskamp two driver’s license photos of Valle-Clas. In one, she wears glasses, has bangs and uses the name Gloria LopezClas. In the other, she has her hair pulled back, no glasses and calls herself Nereida Valle. The photos, Bell said, were taken a day apart.
“This is a crime against every taxpayer in America,” she said. “Mrs. Valle-Clas was someone who had assets and the means to help herself. Despite that, she took advantage of society.”