PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A Philadelphia woman known for her lavish parties, including her son’s $25,000 “Black Panther”-themed prom party, has been charged with Social Security fraud.
Saudia Shuler, 44, was charged with six counts of wire fraud, one count of theft of government funds, and two counts of social security fraud.
“You can’t take what’s not yours,” said Beth Leahy, deputy chief of Health Care and Government Fraud for the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. According to the indictment, the alleged fraud began in 2014.
Shuler allegedly applied for benefits from the Social Security Administration, claiming she was disabled and unable to work. After the benefits were approved, Shuler allegedly continued working, including operating her own restaurant. She’s the owner of Country Cookin’, a take-out spot near 22nd and Cambria that boasts long lines as soon as the doors open.
Prosecutors say the work and income were never reported to Social Security.
“She said that she was disabled and in terms of assets said that she only had $30 in her bank account,” said Leahy. “As far as quality of life, she said she rarely make food for herself and had a cousin that cooked for her.”
If convicted, she faces a maximum sentence of 140 years in jail, a period of supervised release, full restitution to the government of $36,785.67, a fine, and a special assessment.
“Things are not always what they appear to be,” says Tariq El-Shabazz, an attorney who represents Shuler in the matter. He asks her supporters to reserve judgement.
“These are just allegations,” he says, “without any meat or any substance.”
He says Shuler is heartbroken.
“For someone who gives so much, to have these types of allegations is extremely troubling,” says El-Shabazz. “Like she always says, ‘Just wait, you’ll see.'”
Shuler’s extravagant prom send off for her college-bound son, J.J., made national headlines last year. The event cost an estimated $25,000 and included a camel, three luxury vehicles, three dates, and six outfit changes for her son.
She is also known for giving back to the community. She’s bought clothes for kids who needed it and has hired extra teen employees at her resturant to keep them out of trouble. Last December, Shuler transformed her North Philly block into the North Pole, giving away hundreds of gifts to kids.