Nabbing grannies

Feb 1, 2006 at 12:00 am

Officially, the acronym SSA stands for the Social Security Administration. But after talking to Leonard Solano of Dearborn Heights, News Hits is ready to believe it really means Sneaky Sting Administration.

Solano, who describes himself as a former carpenter with degenerative arthritis and an artificial hip, says he recently received an official-looking letter from the SSA saying he was owed an increase in benefits, but that to seal the deal he needed to show up at its offices on the 19th floor of the McNamara Federal Building in downtown Detroit. He grabbed his cane and headed on in for his scheduled meeting last Tuesday. But instead of receiving a benefits increase, he was handcuffed and jammed into a 6-by-4 "non-ventilated" holding room with six other similarly unfortunate people waiting to be transferred to the county slammer.

All looked to be disabled, Solano says.

Turned out the feds, in Solano's case at least, had made a mistake. We checked with the Wayne County Sheriff's Department, whose deputies were doing the arresting, and were told the computer had an outstanding warrant listed for Solano, but the computer was wrong. Deputies on the scene had the good graces to check when Solano claimed a problem dating back to a 1995 probation violation that had long ago been cleared up, and after about an hour he was released.

But it's not the glitch that has him pissed.

"How dare they use my Social Security benefits to dangle over my head like that?" he says. "I would have preferred they kick my damn door down at home than that."

He's also incensed at the way his fellow detainees were treated. "I thank God I was released, but what about the other seniors locked up?" Solano says. "What about the very elderly disabled woman with no medication?"

After two days of trying to get through to the local Social Security office by phone and hearing either repeated busy signals or recorded messages that offered no way to connect to a human being, News Hits hustled over to the McNamara building to see what we could find out in person.

We were eventually directed to the 19th floor, where we found a waiting room with a window, behind which sat a man with no nametag. He said the office was for the Social Security Administration's criminal investigation division, run in conjunction with the Inspector General's office. They investigate identity theft, Social Security fraud and whatnot, he said. When asked if his office was sending letters on Social Security letterhead to lure people with outstanding warrants to his office with promises of increased benefits, he responded, "I can't say." When asked for his name, he refused to give it. Is there at least a phone number News Hits could call to follow the case? "Try the Web site," the man said before exiting into a back room.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]