NEW YORK Irene Prusik has been dead for six years. But in April, someone showed up at the Department of Motor Vehicles in Brooklyn to renew her driver's license.
The explanation given by prosecutors rivals the Hitchcock classic "Psycho": It was her son, in drag.
Thomas Parkin, 49, was charged Wednesday in the bizarre plot to impersonate his deceased mother so he could collect $117,000 in government benefits. He and the man accused of being his accomplice, Mhilton Rimolo, pleaded not guilty to grand larceny, criminal impersonation and other charges.
Both men were ordered held on $1 million bail. Their lawyers did not immediately respond to phone messages left on Wednesday.
District Attorney Charles Hynes said the scam, first reported in the Daily News, was "unparalleled in its scope and brazenness."
Authorities claim that following his arrest, Parkin told them that because he held Prusik when she breathed her last breath, "I am my mother."
Parkin, who lived with his mother, was accused of hatching the scheme after she passed away in 2003 at age 73. He managed to conceal the death by falsifying her death certificate, then collected $52,000 from her $700-a-month Social Security checks over the next six years, prosecutors said.
Authorities say Parkin also got another $65,000 in rent subsidies by falsely claiming he had a disability and that his mother was still alive and was his landlord.
Parkin used his friend Rimolo to pose as the mother's nephew when going to cash checks and do other business, prosecutors said. A security camera photo from the DMV office shows a frail-looking Parkin in a wig and dark glasses, Rimolo by his side, as he fills out paperwork.
The ruse began to unravel amid a dispute over the mother's home, which was sold at foreclosure in 2003. Parkin challenged the purchase by suing the new owner on his mother's behalf so he wouldn't be evicted.
As the property dispute dragged out, both sides eventually contacted the district attorney to accuse each other of fraud. By the time investigators arranged a meeting with the family in May, they already had proof Prusik was dead: a photo of her tombstone in a local cemetery.
The investigators played along as Parkin showed up for the interview "wearing a red cardigan, lipstick, manicured nails and breathing through an oxygen tank," prosecutors said.