A 30-year-old California man who drew national attention for pretending to be a baby is demanding an apology from the Oklahoma senator who called for an investigation into his federal disability benefits.
Stanley Thornton Jr. of Redding recently posted a letter from federal Social Security disability officials on his website. The letter says the investigation is over and he would continue to get his benefits.
Thornton said he feels vindicated, and he thinks Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn owes him an apology, especially because his roommate, Sandra Dias, who acted as his "mother" during his baby role-playing episodes, died this summer fretting about the investigation.
"The last three months in her life were worrying about how we were going to live," Thornton said last week. "It was a lot of stress."
A Coburn spokeswoman didn't respond to a request for comment.
But Coburn spokesman John Hart told the Washington Times on Oct. 18 that the senator remains puzzled by how "a grown man who is able to design and build adult-sized baby furniture is eligible for disability benefits."
"The problem is not with Mr. Thornton, per se, but with the politicians and bureaucrats who have coddled him," Hart told the newspaper. "Disability fraud effectively steals from those who are truly disabled, while weakening the economy for everyone." The Times reported Hart offered his sympathies to Thornton over Dias' death.
In May, Thornton caught Coburn's attention after the senator watched a National Geographic Channel episode of "Taboo" highlighting Thornton's and Dias' baby role-playing.
The program showed Thornton wearing adult diapers, Dias feeding Thornton from a bottle and describing how he built himself an adult-sized crib. He was shown building a man-sized highchair.
"Given that Mr. Thornton is able to determine what is appropriate attire and actions in public, drive himself to complete errands, design and custom-make baby furniture to support a 350-pound adult and run an Internet support group, it is possible that he has been improperly collecting disability benefits," Coburn, a practicing physician, wrote in a letter sent in May to the Social Security Administration.
Coburn sent copies of the letter to President Barack Obama, California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and U.S. Rep. Wally Herger, R-Chico.
Thornton threatened suicide if the government took away his benefits. Thorton said he's genuinely disabled. His "adult baby" lifestyle is "something I do for fun," he said.
On a biography on his website, Thornton, a former security guard, said he pretends to be a baby because it helps him cope with post-traumatic stress disorder from abuse he received when he was a child. He says the stress aggravates a heart condition. He also has a bad back.
He said last week that the show's producers focused on his lifestyle and edited out parts that might have highlighted his disability. He said he continues to get abusive emails expressing disgust that he's abusing the disability system.
"A lot of people are uninformed, you know," Thornton said.
(Contact Ryan Sabalow of the Redding Record Searchlight in California at firstname.lastname@example.org.)