Even after her mother died in 2001, Diane Cleversley continued to collect and spend her mother's Social Security benefits.
By the time she was caught, more than 15 years later, the Buffalo woman had illegally accumulated $176,405.
Now 68, Cleversley pleaded guilty Friday to theft of government money and will face a recommended prison term of 12 to 18 months when she is sentenced by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara.
"It just kept coming in, and it became easy for me to overlook," Cleversley told Arcara. "It shouldn't be and I'm ashamed of that."
Most of the money, about $102,000, was recovered by the government, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Lamarque said. Cleversley, as part of her plea agreement , will have to pay the balance in restitution.
When Arcara asked her if she spent the money, the retired social worker acknowledged using it to buy a car, pay down her mortgage, help a family member facing bankruptcy and travel to Georgia, California and Arizona.
She also put $6,000 into her own retirement fund.
Lamarque said the money was automatically deposited into a Bank of America savings account controlled by Clersley and her mother and continued to flow into the account after Cleversley's mother died. Social Security officials discovered the theft earlier this year.
Defense lawyer James F. Granville declined to comment Friday.