Study Reveals Lack of Social Security Fraud

Contrary to reports published after the deaths in Jonestown in November 1978, there was little (if any) fraud involving Social Security recipients or benefits, according to a study recently completed by the editors of the jonestown report.

In a letter of 26 April 1979 to the House Foreign Affairs Committee — which was reprinted in the committee’s May 1979 report on The Assassination of Representative Leo J. Ryan and the Jonestown, Guyana Tragedy — a Social Security Administration official said the agency had “identified 199 SSA beneficiaries who were in Jonestown, Guyana at the time of the disaster.” Although the letter did not include the names, there was a listing printed elsewhere in the report of 656 uncashed government checks which were recovered from Jonestown. From that, we compiled an independent tally, which arrived at an approximate number of 203 SSA beneficiaries.

Our analysis of these checks led to several conclusions:

1) The checks show how much the Social Security recipients — especially the seniors — contributed to the day-to-day functioning of the Jonestown community of which they were part. The amount of more than $36,000 which the beneficiaries received in September 1978, for example, was not the same every month, but it approximates what the Temple leadership knew it could depend upon each month for the agricultural mission at Jonestown.

2) It shows the gravity of the threat the community perceived from Temple antagonists, especially the Concerned Relatives, who had lobbied the Social Security Administration — as well as the Customs Service, the U.S. Postal Service, the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the Internal Revenue Service — to launch investigations of the Temple.

3) The study also revealed the absence of fraud regarding the legitimacy of Social Security benefits, at least on the surface. Jonestown was apparently complying with its obligations to notify the SSA of deaths in the community, since the only uncashed check for Chlotile Butler, who had died of natural causes earlier that year, dated from March. With one notable exception, the identity of everyone else on the Embassy compilation is known. Only the name of Clara Winters is unknown to us, and that may be due to the lack of completion to our research into Peoples Temple dead and surviving members.

The complete study may be found here.

Last modified on March 16th, 2014.
Skip to main content