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Brad Matthews


NextImg:California man pleads guilty to hiding mother’s death for over 30 years and collecting her benefits

A California man pleaded guilty this week to hiding his mother’s death from the government for over 30 years and collecting more than $830,000 in Social Security benefits earmarked for her.

Defendant Donald Zampach’s mother died in Japan in 1990 and was collecting a widow’s pension from the Social Security Administration as well as an annuity from the Department of Defense’s Finance Accounting Service at the time of her death.

Shortly beforehand, Zampach fraudulently transferred her home in Poway, California, and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, disclosing neither his ownership of the home nor benefit payments.

After his mother’s death, he began using her identity for personal gain. From November 1990 to September 2022, Zampach netted at least $830,238 in money meant for his mother.

Zampach filed forged tax returns in her name, forged her signature on eligibility documents to continue receiving government benefits, maintained her bank accounts and used her name to open credit accounts with at least nine other financial institutions, costing them over $28,000.

Zampach laundered the stolen money so that he could pay off the mortgage on the Poway home as part of his scheme to conceal his ownership of the home and that the money used was the criminal proceeds of fraud.

The scheme is thought to be the longest-running such fraud in the Southern District of California, where the case was tried.

“This crime is believed to be the longest-running and largest fraud of its kind in this district. This defendant didn’t just passively collect checks mailed to his deceased mother. … when investigators caught up to him, he continued to claim she was still alive. As a result of this fraud, he received more than $800,000 in stolen public money,” U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California Randy Grossman said.

Under the terms of his plea agreement Tuesday, Zampach will pay over $830,000 in criminal forfeiture, including surrendering the Poway home. 

On the charge of money laundering, Zampach, now 65, faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000. On the charge of Social Security fraud, Zampach faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

• Brad Matthews can be reached at bmatthews@washingtontimes.com.