TAMPA — For nearly 50 years, Betty Minaker says she was in an abusive marriage.
The 67-year-old mother of four and grandmother of 10 says the “reign of terror” began after her children were born and her husband, Robert, became increasingly angry and controlling. It lasted, she says, until his death last year.
She says she lied to the government because she was afraid what her husband would do if she didn’t go along with his plan to get more money in Social Security disability benefits and housing assistance.
She and her husband lied for eight years, telling government officials they lived apart to increase the amount of the benefits they received. Altogether, they stole $41,000 from the federal government.
“I at first refused to go along with the perpetration and tried to convince him not to do it,” she wrote in a letter to a federal judge. “However, he threatened me with more injury if I didn’t go along, and punishment from the government seemed less sure and definitely less violent than acquiescing to my husband’s unreasonable demands.”
Punishment from the government became very real on Wednesday, as U.S. District Judge James Moody ordered that Minaker spend six months behind bars, followed by a year of probation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Kaiser said there was no independent documentation that Minaker was abused, no hospital records or police reports. And the prosecutor noted Minaker didn’t say anything to the government about the fraud even after her husband died.
“We’ve had a bunch of different stories from Ms. Minaker as how over the years she was able to deceive the government,” Kaiser said.
Assistant Public Defender Yvette Clair Gray said Minaker was “not trying to negate her culpability in this offense. Although the scheme was her late husband’s, she willingly … participated.”
Reading from a letter written by Minaker’s daughter, Gray said, “I can recall several times when dad would come home drunk and start hitting mom for no reason … Mom kept telling dad what she was doing was wrong … He got mad and smacked her a good one.”
“I’m very sorry for what I did,” Minaker said in an emotional plea. “I’m going to pay back what I can pay back.”
Minaker has found a new love, she said, but said she is “still very scared of men … I still wake up at night time with fear that something is going to happen to me.”