A North Philadelphia restaurateur who made headlines for elaborate prom send-offs that included camels and a panther, has pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges.
Saudia Shuler, 44, acknowledged Tuesday that she collected Social Security disability payments for years while failing to report income that would have made her ineligible, a local news organization reports.
Prosecutors said Shuler applied for benefits, describing herself as disabled and unable to work, but continued working — including operating a restaurant — costing the government more than $36,000.
Shuler threw a $25,000 Dubai-themed prom party for her son in 2017 and last year threw a “Black Panther”-themed prom send-off with an actual panther for neighborhood kids.
Defense attorney Tariq El-Shabazz cited his client’s charitable work and said she had a stroke, was in rehab and couldn’t do anything for two-plus years.
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, Shuler 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.
Prior to Shuler’s guilty plea, the United States Marshal’s Service ordered that all people who entered the courtroom for proceedings related to her case leave their cellphones and electronic devices outside. The ruling was made after the Court discovered that several of Shuler’s supporters recorded videos with her in the lobby of the courthouse back in August and posted them on Instagram. — (NBC10/AP)