A former caregiver pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court Monday to stealing more than $200,000 in Social Security benefits from a man who died while in her care between 1994 and 1996 and may have been unceremoniously buried in northern Douglas County.
Federal prosecutors say Carel June Cody, 47, of Cottage Grove admitted she enlisted the help of others to bury John Arnold, then in his mid-70s, and cover up his death. She also admitted forging Arnold’s signature on checks she made out to herself and lying to a federal agent to conceal that Arnold was dead. She collected his Social Security benefits for 16 years before her arrest in May 2012.
Cody was not charged in Arnold’s death. His body has not been found.
Cody pleaded guilty Monday to bank fraud, theft of government funds and aggravated identity theft. She will be sentenced July 29 in U.S. District Court.
Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Helen L. Cooper said today she was “glad to get the plea and looks forward to the sentencing.”
The maximum penalty is more than four years in prison, and Cooper said she hopes Cody will serve most of that.
“We’re going to be asking for the high end of the sentencing guidelines,” she said.
Cooper said she will also ask the court to prohibit Cody from serving as a caretaker following her release from prison.
The plea agreement requires Cody to pay $203,528 in restitution, including relinquishing $36,000 in a federal retirement account she earned as a U.S. Postal Service worker. Cooper said restitution is due immediately. Part of it may come from proceeds of the sale of Cody’s house.
Cooper said Cody seemed pretty quiet during her court appearance Monday.
“The judge did have to ask her to speak up several times,” Cooper said.
Arnold was born in 1919 and would have been between 75 and 77 at the time of his death. He had been a manual laborer. Cooper said as far as she knows, Arnold has no survivors.
“Our information is that he didn’t have any relatives. That’s why he could be gone so long without being missed,” Cooper said.
An investigation by the FBI and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office turned up neither a body nor evidence of homicide. Witnesses told investigators that Cody got her mother and two friends to help her bury the body in a shallow grave at her mother’s residence on Eagle Valley Road between Yoncalla and Drain.
One of the people who helped with the burial told investigators that Cody said at the time she planned to collect Arnold’s benefits.
Court documents say Cody told investigators she concealed Arnold’s death because she was worried the Department of Human Services would be critical of her living conditions and her pet monkey.
Cody’s husband, Ernest Cook, pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property. He was released from jail in May 2012 and is scheduled to be sentenced July 30.
Cody was not released from jail following her arrest because prosecutors believed she was a flight risk.
• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or email@example.com.