A North Philadelphia restaurateur who gained local fame last year for spending $25,000 on her son's prom, including camels, has been charged with defrauding the Social Security Administration.
Saudia Shuler was indicted for allegedly collecting nearly $37,000 in government benefits by claiming she was disabled yet continuing to work, according to the U.S. attorney for Eastern Pennsylvania.
"The defendant applied for benefits from the Social Security Administration, claiming she was disabled and unable to work. After Social Security approved benefits, the defendant continued working, including the operation of her own restaurant," a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office said in an email Tuesday. "This work and income was never reported to Social Security, in violation of program rules."
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If she is found guilty, Shuler faces a maximum sentence of 140 years in prison.
The fraud charges come in the aftermath of a momentous year for Shuler, 44, who twice made headlines for lavish spending.
In the spring of 2017, Shuler spent $25,000 on a camel, three tons of sand and exotic cars for a massive event in her neighborhood celebrating her son's prom.
It was dubbed "Dubai to Philly."
Months later, at Christmastime, the North Philly restaurant owner held another big party in her neighborhood. It featured hundreds of gifts and two reindeer.
"I know what hard time is," Saudia Shuler told the crowd of hundreds who gathered along North 22nd Street. "Because I come from hard times."
The event was held at Country Cookin', the restaurant Shuler owns. She put her role as a business owner aside for the night and became "Saudia Claus," handing out hundreds of gifts to excited children.
"We gave them 140 bikes," she said. "We gave out over 50 scooters. We gave out 'Batman' cars, like the remote-controlled cars you put your feet on and then drive."
Shuler told NBC10 that she used the chances to celebrate her good fortunes after dealing with tragedies, including the murder of her son's father and multiple health scares over the past decade.
"I had a stroke. I had seizures. I had cancer," she said. "All within the last three years."
At the time, Shuler said she'd received donations from all over the country to help pay for the outsize events.
After reading his client's indictment, Philadelphia-based attorney Tariq El-Shabazz, said, "I didn't see the meat yet, I've just seen the bones." He added that Shuler is still waiting to see what evidence the U.S. attorney's office will present.
"She is obviously upset because there are allegations contained in the indictment that are absolutely untrue," El-Shabazz said.
Other allegations are being turned around to look different than reality, he said.
She faces six counts of wire fraud, one count of theft of government funds and two counts of Social Security fraud.