A man in Castle Pines will spend six months in federal prison for inventing 10 children, setting aside $324,000 in government benefits for them and sending the money to himself.
Justin Skiff, 36, was sentenced July 13 by U.S. District Judge Daniel Domenico, who took into consideration Skiff’s autism and a $1 million financial loss that precipitated his fraud.
“Mr. Skiff, you are obviously a young man, you seem to have a strong work ethic, and I have no doubt that you will overcome this and make a success of it,” Domenico told him. “I hope, looking back, that this will end up being one of those things that sets you on a better path.”
Skiff began working for the Social Security Administration office in Littleton after college in 2010. Two years later, his father died and Skiff, then in his mid-20s, was put in charge of his mother’s finances. He invested heavily in stocks “on margin” — that is, with borrowed money.
“Over the next six years, he lost a million dollars of his mother’s retirement savings and $80,000 of his own money,” his attorney, Brian Leedy of Ridley McGreevy Winocur, told Domenico.
“All of her funds,” Skiff told Domenico, “including borrowed funds, were lost due to a single investment in Ford stock that I initiated shortly after my father’s death.”
The losses sent Skiff into a “downward spiral” of depression, Leedy said, and his mind could come up with only two options for recouping the losses: defrauding insurance companies by committing suicide, or defrauding the government. He chose the latter.
Beginning in summer 2019, Skiff gave Social Security numbers to 10 fictitious kids and claimed their parents had died without heirs. He then appointed Michael Baird, a real person whose identity Skiff stole, to receive payments on the kids’ behalf. The SSA mailed the money on prepaid cards to a UPS post office box where Skiff, pretending to be Baird, nabbed them.
Skiff would then withdraw the money at an ATM and move it to his bank accounts or buy money orders payable to his mother, who is identified in court documents only as B.S.
Skiff took many of the children’s names from popular culture, court documents show. They include Jack Donaghy, the name of Alec Baldwin’s character on the former NBC sitcom “30 Rock”; Elle Woods, who shares a name with the protagonist of the “Legally Blonde” movies; and Lisa Bouvier, a name Lisa Simpson once used on “The Simpsons.”
At one point, he used the stolen tax dollars to buy a $24,000 diamond engagement ring, which the government seized during a search warrant of his house last April.
“Although the defendant argued that his motivation for starting the scheme was to replenish his mother’s retirement funds, that is not what he used the majority of the stolen funds for,” Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Sonia Dave told Domenico on July 13.
Less than one-third of the stolen money went to Skiff’s mother, according to the prosecutor.
Dave asked Domenico to sentence Skiff to 41 months in prison, in part because his crimes were sophisticated. Leedy disputed that characterization and asked for a sentence of probation. Prison would be especially hard on Skiff because of his autism, Leedy told the judge.
“Mr. Skiff is not like others,” the defense attorney said. “Not like your typical defendant.”
Domenico split the difference, finding that Skiff’s scheme of wire fraud, Social Security fraud and money laundering was complex, but a sentence of 41 months would be “excessive.”
“This is an abuse of the trust that we put in people who have access to individuals’ secrets and their personal information,” the judge said, adding that Skiff’s actions “started out maybe not as a selfish crime” however he “ended up with a number of personal purchases.”
Skiff told Domenico that he knows what he did “is morally and ethically wrong.”
“I lost all of my mom’s money, all of my money and the trust and respect of my wife because of the crimes I committed,” he said. “I was not acting rationally or who I am as a person when I began to steal money from Social Security. I made monumental mistakes managing my mother’s money and then did something worse.”
Skiff will spend three years on probation after he leaves prison and must pay $324,201 in restitution to the government. Domenico asked the Bureau of Prisons to house him at its nearest prison, FCI Englewood, and gave Skiff four weeks to report to it.
Until then, Skiff is working 60 to 70 hours per week for the government as a mail carrier.
“I am fully committed to making things right,” he told Domenico. “I would like to keep working to pay back all restitution and continue to be a productive citizen.”