Little Falls woman pleads guilty to hiding dead body, stealing Social Security money

A Little Falls woman has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and fraud charges after investigators say she hid a man’s dead body for seven years – but continued to use his checking account.

Posted: Feb 27, 2020 12:09 PM
Updated: Feb 27, 2020 5:45 PM

LITTLE FALLS, N.Y. – A Little Falls woman has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and fraud charges after investigators say she hid a man’s dead body for seven years – but continued to use his checking account.

TammyLynn Sterling Barthelmess, 62, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal government funds and three counts of bank fraud. She says her tenant, Donald Wichelns, died in her home in 2006, and she kept his decomposing body inside a dog crate behind an unoccupied house she owned in Little Falls. The body was discovered in May of 2013.

Barthelmess admitted that she and her daughter, Shannon Hardy Sekel, stole Social Security benefits from the Wichelns’ checking account while they continued to be deposited after his death. She says they also wrote checks from his account until 2013, and admitted to lying to investigators after the body was discovered.

Sekel previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal government money and bank fraud. She has not yet been sentenced.

Barthelmess is scheduled to be sentenced in June. On the conspiracy charge, she faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. She faces up to 30 years in prison and up to $1 million in fines for each count of bank fraud.

As part of her guilty plea, Barthelmess agreed to pay nearly $111,000 in restitution to the Social Security Administration.

She may also be under supervised release following her sentence.

According to the Federal Public Defender's Office, Barthelmess originally faced 70 charges. In exchange for a guilty plea, 66 charges were dropped, including six counts of aggravated identity theft, which would have carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 12 years in prison. 

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