Seattle business owner scams $60,000 in welfare benefits

by: David Ham Updated:

A federal judge sentenced a Seattle man to five months in prison for defrauding the government out of $60,000 in benefits.

Vernal Morris received tens of thousands of dollars in disability benefits, food stamps and housing benefits by saying he couldn't dress or bathe himself.

Turns out investigators found out not only was he lying, but he was also running a successful business out of public housing.

Prosecutors say Morris owned and operated B&V Lawn and Hauling, with as many as six employees, a website and trucks. He was responsible for the company's advertising, sales, customer relations, and for the supervision of the employees. 

"This is someone who said he was afraid of people and couldn't' even engage with people and then was out there as a customer representative every day," said Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, Seth Wilkinson.

Federal records show that Morris applied for Social Security Disability payments in 2004, claiming he had a psychological disability. That claim was rejected and then Morris appealed the decision.

Then he claimed he was unable to bathe and couldn't stand for more than 20 minutes. He also said he was afraid to leave his home.

A judge then found him eligible for benefits. He collected $31,313 in disability benefits from October 2007 to August 2012. 

He also collected $21,284 in public housing benefits and $8,192 in benefits from the Washington State Department of Social Health Services.

Works at the Seattle Housing Authority became suspicious of Morris when he parked his work truck with a decal for his business at the public housing facility in Queen Anne.

Federal agents began surveillance on him and confronted him.

"He was confronted and once he was shown the evidence him he confessed," Wilkinson.

Wilkinson said Morris seemed remorseful in court, saying he was sorry for what he had done.

"These are programs intended to help the poorest people in society and when the benefits are stolen it means the people who are truly needy don't get the benefits," said Wilkinson.

Morris will start his prison sentence in four to six weeks. He will also have to pay $60,726 in restitution. He will also be on supervision for three years when he is released from the federal detention center.