Ever since Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn a few months ago, being transgender has become the new “hip” thing in American Culture. The transgender dramedy Transparent was just nominated for six Emmy awards, and a series of transgender reality shows are in development on multiple television channels.
One transgender, however, was in for a rude awakening this week after it was revealed that he had accepted disability checks for forty years as a man while he worked as a woman.
According to Daily Mail, Richelle McDonald, from Portland, Oregon, was born Richard McDonald in 1945, and received a Social Security number under that name as a teenager. After being hit by a bus in 1974 while working as a transvestite prostitute, McDonald applied for and received Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for a paralyzed arm.
In the 1970s, McDonald also applied for another Social Security number under the name Richelle. She had sexual reassignment surgery in 1981 and then became a janitor as Richelle, working from the 1980s to 2012 despite her arm injury. She never alerted Social Security about the switch and continued to collect the disability checks that were being sent to Richard, providing false statements and forms to keep her scheme going.
She was finally caught in 2014, and she plead guilty to Social Security fraud in December. On Monday, McDonald was sentenced to eight months of house arrest in her Portland home. The judge ruled that she also must pay restitution.
“We understand the struggles she went through in becoming Richelle, but I will still point out that she could be Richard when it was convenient for her,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Helen Cooper said.
Despite the severity of the crime, Cooper recommended that McDonald not be sentenced to time in federal prison. She suffers seizures and a variety of other health issues that would be expensive for an inmate in a federal penitentiary. On top of that, McDonald has cooperated with the investigation and has already paid $30,000 in restitution, the rest of which will come from her Social Security benefits.
Judge Marco Hernandez made sure that McDonald knew that she was getting off easy, and that she should be grateful to prosecutors for keeping her out of prison.
“Somebody steals a quarter of million dollars, most people think that person ought to go to prison,” Hernandez told McDonald. “You understand that?”
McDonald nodded in agreement: “I’m just sorry that I did what I did.”