'New life again': York County woman explains why she faked death in Ukraine

Aimee Ambrose
York Dispatch

Oksana Brown leaned into a microphone and uttered two words: “I lied.”

A judge had asked the Dallastown woman for details about her guilty plea, and Brown gave the succinct response to sum up an incredible series of events that started five years ago.

Brown later elaborated in her statements to the court as she admitted to a litany of offenses that span five criminal cases.

According to investigators, Brown sought to take out three life insurance policies, totaling $1.25 million, while conspiring with family. She then traveled to Ukraine and faked her death. When that didn’t work out, she returned to the U.S.

Oksana Brown in April 2018

Later, she stole items from a Walmart, then falsely accused the Pennsylvania State Police trooper who arrested her of molesting her during a search.

Finally, Brown was caught shoplifting again last year after she returned to York County.

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Then came a revelation at the hearing. Brown was charged again in a sixth case last month — with a theft count filed against her.

Police accused her of stealing close to $1,000 in merchandise from another store multiple times in December and January while she was charged in the other cases.

Brown, 48, pleaded guilty in that case, too, along with the five other cases, during a hearing in the York County Court of Common Pleas on Friday.

For all that, she was sentenced to eight to 23 months at York County Prison followed by seven years of probation. She’ll also have to pay close to $9,000 in restitution.

Brown, who was free on bail, was taken into custody after the hearing.

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Judge Maria Musti Cook asked Brown why she faked her death. Brown kept her response simple.

“Just wanted to start new life again,” she said.

“Yeah, we’d all like to do that from time to time, but it doesn’t work out that way,” the judge replied.

She also asked for an explanation about the insurance fraud.

“I lied on [the] form,” Brown said.

She admitted that she lied on a life insurance application by leaving out that she was on probation for shoplifting while also charged with falsely accusing a trooper.

She said she then tried to collect on the policies “by faking my death.” She said her son, Anatoliy Brown, was involved in the plan. Deputy prosecutor Nancy Lovin noted that Brown’s husband, Paul Brown, was also allegedly involved.

On the false accusation count, Brown at first said she filed a complaint and added more information than she should.

That prompted Musti Cook to warn her to elaborate on what she was admitting to, or they’d be in court all day. The judge then warned, “And I don’t have all day.”

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Brown then admitted to lying when she said a trooper had touched her inappropriately.

She also admitted to stealing from Lowe’s Home Improvement and Home Depot stores over the last year.

Her attorney, John McMahon Jr., declined to comment on the cases after the hearing.

The saga began five years ago, in April 2018.

A state police trooper said Brown stole a smoke detector and two tubes of caulk, worth about $30, from the Walmart in Shrewsbury Township. She walked away before staff could stop her.

A retail theft charge was filed, a warrant was issued, and the trooper arrested Brown.

A month later, Brown complained to the state police that the trooper groped her during a search at her home. She allegedly indicated she was a former Baltimore cop and also accused the trooper of propositioning her during a district court hearing, court documents show.

Police launched an internal investigation, which Lovin said lasted six months and jeopardized the trooper’s career. Investigators found no evidence of wrongdoing and charged Brown with unsworn falsification to authorities and filing a false report that November.

She’d already pleaded guilty in the theft case and given probation.

While facing the new charges, Brown and her husband started calling insurance companies and applying for life insurance policies in December 2018 and January 2019, investigators alleged.

They were issued policies from State Farm, CUNA, Gerber Life and Assurity, charging documents show. Paul and Anatoliy Brown were listed as beneficiaries with at least two of the companies.

The false accusation case worked its way through the court system as 2019 waned. Court documents show that in August, Musti Cook put the case on the trial list for November.

The date would never come.

Brown left the country that September, and she was reported dead a month later in Ukraine, allegedly from food poisoning. A death certificate was forged and produced, according to investigators.

The York County District Attorney’s Office dropped the false accusation case. And Paul Brown allegedly started calling the insurance companies to begin the claims process, although State Farm denied benefits because Brown left her criminal information off the application.

Lovin said Friday said the claims led to an extensive investigation by the insurance companies, which included “boots on the ground” in Ukraine.

Brown’s “death” lasted all of about seven months.

She was reported as still alive in Ukraine by May 2020. And work began to restore her passport so she could return to the U.S.

Anatoliy Brown allegedly told a Homeland Security investigator that he and Paul Brown tried to talk his mother out of the scheme. He also said he knew she wasn’t dead and had used a social media app to communicate with her, but the conversations were masked to look like he was speaking to his grandmother, charging documents show.

Brown flew into New York City in November 2020, already charged with forgery for the fake death certificate.

As she returned, an insurance fraud case was filed, and the DA's office brought the false accusation case back to life.

Brown was held at Riker’s Island for a couple of weeks when she returned, Lovin said. She was then transferred to York County Prison for a couple more weeks before posting bail.

She was charged again in April 2022 with conspiring to commit insurance fraud.

Around the same time, she was picked up by West Manchester Township police for stealing about $154 worth of merchandise from Lowe’s Home Improvement.

The self-employed woman said Friday she intended to use the items she took to fix her rental properties.

The final case came in January, when Springettsbury Township police said Brown stole from the Home Depot along East Market Street five different times from Dec. 29 to Jan. 18.

Police said 20 items were stolen in total, amounting to a value of nearly $967.

About a week after the case was filed, McMahon filed motions to cancel Brown’s upcoming trial in March. The plea hearing was scheduled instead, according to court documents.

At Friday’s hearing, Brown pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of unsworn falsification, a misdemeanor count of falsifying a document, a misdemeanor count of insurance fraud, a felony count of conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and two felony counts of retail theft.

Musti Cook sentenced her to the eight to 23 months of jail time as concurrent terms for faking her death and conspiring to commit insurance fraud. She got probation, adding up to seven years, on the rest of the charges.

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The judge credited Brown with 24 days for the time she spent in jail after returning to the U.S.

Brown was also ordered to pay $7,987 in restitution to the CUNA, Gerber Life and Assurity insurance companies. Of that, $3,277 would go to Assurity, while CUNA and Gerber Life would each get $2,370.

And she has to complete a shoplifting rehabilitation program, Musti Cook said.

Paul Brown and Anatoliy Brown both remain charged with insurance fraud and conspiracy in the case, court documents show.

— Reach Aimee Ambrose at aambrose@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @aimee_TYD.