Cashing a Dead Man’s Social Security Check

January 10, 2008

A bizarre story out of New York City where two men attempted to use a man’s corpse to cash his Social Security check, courtesy of the Associated Press:

Detective Travis Rapp has seen his share of corpses, but this was new: two men wheeling a rigid, pale body down a Manhattan street in a red office chair, drawing a crowd of suspicious onlookers.

Looking out the window of the restaurant where he was having lunch, Rapp initially assumed “it was a mannequin or a dummy,” he said. “I thought it was a joke, honestly.”

A closer inspection showed that it wasn’t. The man was dead, and two of his friends had hauled his corpse to a store to cash his $355 Social Security check, police said. They were arrested before they could get the money.

The bedraggled suspects, David J. Dalaia and James O’Hare, were scheduled to appear in court Wednesday night. Police said the men, both 65, were petty criminals with long histories of heroin addiction and arrests dating to the 1960s.

The trouble began Tuesday when Dalaia and O’Hare tried to cash Virgilio Cintron’s check at a store in Hell’s Kitchen on their own, police said. The man at the counter told them that Cintron had to be present to cash the check, so they went back to his apartment, which one of the suspects shared with the dead man.

Cintron was apparently undressed when he died, sometime within the previous 24 hours. Police said Dalaia and O’Hare proceeded to dress him in a faded T-shirt, pants they could only get up part way, and a pair of Velcro sneakers. They threw a coat over his waist to conceal what the pants couldn’t cover, police said.

They then put him on the office chair and wheeled the corpse over to the check-cashing store.

The men left Cintron’s body outside, went inside and tried to cash his check, authorities said. The store’s clerk, who knew Cintron, asked the men where he was, and O’Hare told the clerk they would go and get him.

At about the same time, Rapp spotted the men and confronted them as they were trying to haul the body into the store. He said that even after he identified himself as a police officer, O’Hare told him, “I have to get my friend in here. I have to cash his check.”

While this story may make people laugh or cringe, it brings up a point that is often overlooked in Social Security policy debates: people (like Crintron, who was 66 at the time of death) who are statistically more likely to die early are discriminated against by the insurance program called Social Security. If it’s truly an insurance program as many of its defenders claim (as opposed to merely a redistribution system) whereby it pays out money to you in the event you live to be 65, then shouldn’t the premiums be adjusted based upon the probability that one will make a claim?

Why should someone who works a more dangerous job or is born with a condition that makes his life expectancy shorter be forced to pay the same rate as a woman who works in an office and is expected to live to 85? Under a true insurance program, the latter should be forced to pay a higher premium due to a higher probability of making a claim.

The current Social Security system (again, if it’s truly an insurance program) is like someone with three DUIs and 10 speeding tickets being charged the same car insurance rate as a Ned Flanders-type who has never gone 1 MPH over the speed limit.

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