The California man who lives part of his life as an “adult baby” and collects Social Security disability payments says the federal agency has cleared him of wrongdoing and will continue sending checks.
Stanley Thornton Jr. now wants an apology from Sen. Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma Republican who called for the benefit review because the investigation disrupted the final months of life for his roommate Sandra Dias, who playacted as his mother, spoon-feeding him and helping him into his baby clothes until her death in July.
“We recently reviewed the evidence in your Social Security disability claim and find that your disability is continuing,” the agency said in an August letter that Mr. Thornton posted on the website he maintains to document his adult baby lifestyle.
Mr. Thornton first gained prominence after he appeared on a reality television show and later after Mr. Coburn asked for the Social Security Administration to investigate him. The lawmaker questioned why he was receiving taxpayer-funded Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments, commonly called disability checks, given the woodworking skills he demonstrated in May on the National Geographic channel television show “Taboo.”
Dias died July 7, and Mr. Thornton moved out of the apartment they shared. He told The Washington Times they had made payments based on their combined disability checks, which came to about $860 a month for each of them, and he could no longer afford the home on his own.
“My best friend Sandra had to spend the last 3 months of her life being accused of something she didn’t do. Having her family and 3 kids seeing her accused on the nightly news of something she didn’t do,” he wrote in an extensive post explaining the situation on the website he runs at www.BedWettingABDL.com for others who play-act as babies, wear diapers or wet their beds.
John Hart, a spokesman for Mr. Coburn, said Tuesday that the senator, who is also a medical doctor, is still puzzled by how “a grown man who is able to design and build adult-sized baby furniture is eligible for disability benefits.”
“Yet, the problem is not with Mr. Thornton, per se, but with the politicians and bureaucrats who have coddled him,” Mr. Hart said. “Disability fraud effectively steals from those who are truly disabled, while weakening the economy for everyone.”
Mr. Hart expressed sympathies for Mr. Thornton over the death of Dias.
SSI is run by Social Security and pays benefits to aged, blind and disabled people who have little or no income. The funds are paid out of general taxpayer revenues, not from payroll taxes.
The Social Security inspector general’s office said it couldn’t comment on the case without the permission of Mr. Thornton, who has not granted it to the agency.
Mr. Thornton said that during the course of the investigation he underwent a three-hour interview with Social Security investigators and an FBI agent over his disability status and whether he received any compensation from his participation in the reality-television episode.
In emails to The Times, he said he was exonerated by all of the agencies.
“Just thought I would let people know, I have been triple cleared of being accused by Senator Coburn of Social Security fraud,” he wrote.
In the program, Mr. Thornton was shown playing in the adult-sized crib he built and seen working to build a wooden highchair. Mr. Coburn asked Social Security’s inspector general to take a closer look at the disability program and Mr. Thornton’s situation in particular to see whether beneficiaries were being paid by taxpayers even though they were able to work.
When The Times first contacted Mr. Thornton about the investigation, he acknowledged thoughts of suicide, saying he had “no problem killing myself” if his benefits were taken away.
“Take away the last thing keeping me here, and see what happens. Next time you see me on the news, it will be me in a body bag,” he said.
In follow-up emails, he explained that Dias had just been hospitalized, and “so I was quite a mess mentally and at the time, wanted to throw in the towel and just end my life.”
Mr. Coburn also had asked investigators look into why Dias was receiving disability payments “since she is able to provide child care” to Mr. Thornton. But Mr. Thornton said before her death that she, too, was cleared of abusing Social Security payments.
He said he doesn’t spend much of his disability checks on his adult baby lifestyle, having bought many items earlier when he was working as a security guard. Some of his toys were Christmas gifts, and some of his other baby paraphernalia was bought with money he made by recycling bottles and cans.
“The only babyish items bought with SSI monies [were] wipes, powder and rash cream and that was because medical insurance only pays for the diapers for the incontinence,” he said.
He said he still uses the same penguin-themed sleeper he received as a Christmas gift in 2002 and wears it sparingly because he doesn’t have $300 to replace it. He said he still drives a Dodge Caravan with 145,000 miles on it and a front bumper held in place by a bungee cord.
Mr. Thornton said the television show paid for the materials for his highchair project and that he was in so much pain after the taping that he was bedridden for almost two weeks.
In an extensive biography on his website, he describes trauma stemming from childhood abuse, combined with other mental and physical problems that he said make it impossible to maintain employment, including the security guard position he held for 1 1/2 years.
He said his mother first applied for benefits for him when he was 16.