HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — A woman has been convicted of theft of public funds after collecting Social Security benefits from a man who died since 2008, investigators say.

Panagiota Tsigelis, a Greek citizen who is a lawful permanent resident of Houston, collected benefits intended for a Social Security retiree from a man who died in 2008, according to U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.

After a two-day trial, the jury deliberated for 90 minutes and convicted the 68-year-old on all 34 counts.

At trial, a Social Security claims representative explained that once a beneficiary dies, their retirement benefits are supposed to stop.

A review of records in 2017 showed the deceased man was still receiving Social Security retirement benefits directly deposited into his checking account.

The jury also heard from a federal agent who led the investigation and a local bank official from JP Morgan Chase.

According to testimonies, Tsigelis claimed she was married to the individual in Greece before his death. She said she believed she was still eligible for benefits as a surviving spouse, according to Lowery.

However, she prematurely admitted she had never been married to him and fabricated a relationship out of fear, according to Lowery.

At trial, Tsigelis argued that she did not understand the rules due to a language barrier and honestly believed she was entitled to the money. The jury ultimately found her guilty.

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison presided over the trial and set sentencing for June 7. Tsigelis faces up to 20 years in federal prison. She could also face the loss of her legal status in the United States.

Tsigelis was allowed to remain on bail pending that hearing.

The Social Security Administration – Office of the Inspector General conducted the investigation. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin C. Sandel and Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas H. Carter prosecuted the case.

Copyright © 2022 KTRK-TV. All rights reserved.