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Social Security benefits

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Stavros Tsakonis

Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond A. Tierney today announced that Stavros Tsakonis, 61, of Shirley, pleaded guilty to Identity Theft, Grand Larceny, and other related charges, after stealing the identity of his deceased brother, U.S. Army and Vietnam War veteran Chris Tsakonis, in order to continue working while still receiving disability benefits.

“Greed led this defendant to exploit the death of his brother, so that he could work under his brother’s name and simultaneously claim a full disability under his own name,” said District Attorney Tierney. “Instead of respecting his brother’s memory, this defendant used the opportunity to start a plumbing business and purchase vehicles, while lining his own pockets with fraudulently obtained taxpayer funds for a supposed disability.”

“This 8-month-long investigation uncovered this scam artist’s scheme to work under the identity of his deceased veteran brother while obtaining over $160,000 in fraudulent disability benefits,” said Suffolk County Sheriff Errol D. Toulon, Jr. “I applaud the Suffolk Sheriff’s Office Investigators; District Attorney’s Office and all of our law enforcement partners for their collaboration to expose this man’s abuse of a system meant to help those in need.”

page1image32752240According to court documents and the defendant’s admissions during his guilty plea allocution, from February 2015 to January 2023, Stavros Tsakonis stole more than $160,000 in disability benefits by falsely claiming to the U.S. Social Security Administration that he was disabled and could not work. However, during this time, the defendant continued working and earning income as a plumber while using the personal identifying information of his deceased brother, Chris Tsakonis.

On January 25, 2023, Stavros Tsakonis was observed entering the Social Security Administration’s office in Patchogue using the assistance of a walker. After completing a form claiming that he had not worked since February 1989 and re-affirming he was disabled, the defendant was surveilled while walking unaided, without the assistance of any person or device.

A review of the defendant’s financial records, combined with multiple law enforcement surveillances, revealed that he was gainfully employed as a plumber and has earned income as far back as February 2015, under the name of Chris Tsakonis, who passed away in 2012.

Tsakonis further admitted to fraudulently filing paperwork with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles in order to obtain a driver’s license and register several vehicles in the name of “Chris Tsakonis.” He also admitted to filing fraudulent documentation with the Suffolk County of Consumer Affairs office to apply for and renew a Master Plumbing License in his brother’s name, as well as identifying himself as Chris Tsakonis during a traffic stop conducted by a member of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office.

On July 26, 2023, Tsakonis pleaded guilty before Supreme Court Justice, the Honorable Richard Ambro, to the following charges:

  •   One count of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a Class C felony;
  •   Twelve counts of Identity Theft in the First Degree, Class D felonies;
  •   Eight counts of Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree, Class D felonies;
  •   Three counts of Identity Theft in the Second Degree, Class E felonies;
  •   Three counts of Falsifying a Business Record in the First Degree, Class E felonies;
  •   Two counts of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, Class E felonies; and
  •   One count of Criminal Impersonation in the Second Degree, a Class A misdemeanor.

    Tsakonis is due back in court on October 3, 2023, and is expected to be sentenced to six months in jail followed by five years of probation. As required by the conditions of his plea, Tsakonis is also required to pay $169, 333 in restitution to the U.S. Social Security Administration. He is being represented by Michael Brown, Esq.

    This case is being prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Tara Fairgrieve of the Financial Crime Bureau, with investigative assistance from members of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, the Suffolk County Police Department, the United States Social Security Administration, the Office of Inspector General, and the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.

METRO photo

By Michael Christodoulou

If you receive Social Security, you’ve probably already heard that your checks in 2023 will be bigger — considerably bigger, in fact. How can you make the best use of this extra money?

Here’s what’s happening: For 2023, there’s an 8.7% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for Social Security benefits — the largest increase in 40 years. Also, the monthly Medicare Part B premiums are declining next year, to $164.90/month from $170.10/month, which will also modestly boost Social Security checks for those enrolled in Part B, as these premiums are automatically deducted.

Of course, the sizable COLA is due to the high inflation of 2022, as the Social Security Administration uses a formula based on increases in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). So, it’s certainly possible that you will need some, or perhaps all, of your larger checks to pay for the increased cost of goods and services. But if your cash flow is already relatively strong, you might want to consider these suggestions for using your bigger checks:

Reduce withdrawals from your investment portfolio. When you’re retired, you will likely need to withdraw a certain amount from your portfolio each year to meet your expenses. A boost in your Social Security may enable you to withdraw less, at least for a year. This can be particularly advantageous when the markets are down, as you’d like to avoid, as much as possible, selling investments and withdrawing the money when investment prices are low. And the fewer investments you need to sell, the longer your portfolio may last during your retirement years.

Help build your cash reserves. When you’re retired, it’s a good idea to maintain about a year’s worth of the amount you’ll spend from your portfolio in cash, while also keeping three months’ of your spending needs in an emergency fund, with the money kept in a liquid, low-risk account. Your higher Social Security checks could help you build these cash reserves. (Also, it’s helpful to keep another three to five years’ worth of spending from your portfolio in short-term, fixed-income investments, which now, due to higher interest rates, offer better income opportunities.)

Contribute to a 529 plan. You could use some of your extra Social Security money to contribute to a tax-advantaged 529 education savings plan for your grandchildren or other family members.

Contribute to charitable organizations. You might want to use some of your Social Security money to expand your charitable giving. Your generosity will help worthy groups and possibly bring you some tax benefits, too.

While it’s nice to have these possible options in 2023, you can’t count on future COLA increases being as large. The jump in inflation in 2022 was due to several unusual factors, including pandemic-related government spending, supply shortages and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It’s quite possible, perhaps even likely, that inflation will subside in 2023, which, in turn, would mean a smaller COLA bump in 2024.

Nonetheless, while you might not want to include large annual COLA increases as part of your long-term financial strategy, you may well choose to take advantage, in some of the ways described above, of the bigger Social Security checks you’ll receive in 2023. When opportunity knocks, you may want to open the door.

Michael Christodoulou, ChFC®, AAMS®, CRPC®, CRPS® is a Financial Advisor for Edward Jones in Stony Brook. Member SIPC.