'Blind' woman who was videotaped driving is jailed

September 11, 1992|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,Staff Writer

BEL AIR -- She claimed she was legally blind, unable to work or even leave home alone.

Then a police officer videotaped the 43-year-old Harford County woman driving a car and working in a pizza shop. That tape, a jury decided, proved that Elizabeth M. Corbett should never have received more than $5,000 in Social Security payments.

Yesterday, Harford Circuit Judge Stephen M. Waldron sentenced the Forest Hill woman to 15 months in jail and ordered her to repay $5,382, along with a $2,000 fine and $855 in court costs, for felony theft. Upon release, Corbett also must serve four years of supervised probation and perform 250 hours' community service.

"It was a plain and simple scheme to defraud," Judge Waldron said before sentencing Corbett. "This woman was robbing the system designed to help people."

Corbett was convicted Sept. 1 for accepting monthly disability checks between Jan. 1 and July 31, 1991. Judge Waldron sentenced Corbett to seven years in jail for each of seven counts of felony theft, to be served concurrently, but suspended all but 15 months.

When the judge asked Corbett if she wished to speak to the court, she said, tearfully: "I didn't do anything intentionally."

The most damaging evidence proved to be the 1990 videotape filmed by Sgt. Robert Richick of the Harford County Sheriff's Department outside an Edgewood pizza shop where Corbett regularly drove a 1970 Chevrolet Impala to help out at lunch time.

Prosecutor Scott Lewis had recommended a sentence of 15 years in prison, with all but five years suspended. "The real crime here is [against] all those people who need help [for disabilities] and can't get it because of people like the defendant," Mr. Lewis said.

He cited Motor Vehicle Administration records showing that Corbett had renewed her driver's license in March 1983, five months before benefits began. Corbett also renewed her license in August 1986 and on Jan. 18, 1991, when she passed the MVA vision test. No visual restrictions were placed on her license.

The Social Security Administration pamphlet given to all recipients of disability checks, Mr. Lewis said, clearly warns recipients that they must notify SSA of any improvements in their condition. "Failure to do so could mean you'll get payments you aren't due -- money that will have to be repaid," the pamphlet says.

Corbett's attorney, Lester V. Jones, said he would file for a review of the sentence within 30 days.

After a 2 1/2 -year investigation, he said, the Social Security Administration has yet to call in his client for a review of her medical condition and is still paying her, Mr. Jones said.

"This trial is shameful," Mr. Jones told the jury. He said that because of surgery gone wrong in 1979, Corbett was clinically dead for 18 minutes, causing her blindness, and still has no recollection of events before 1979.

He said his client's vision easily fell within the standards set by the Social Security Administration for paying disability and that SSA guidelines indicated that vision could not be better than 20/200 in the best eye.

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