A Rhode Island woman who once worked as a social worker at a veterans’ hospital was sentenced to 70 months in prison for using information stolen from patients to fraudulently obtain over $250,000.
A statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Long Island said Sarah Jane Cavanaugh, 32, pleaded guilty to wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, forgery, and fraudulent use of medals after presenting herself as a veteran to defraud “defrauded veterans, veterans’ organizations, veterans’ charities, friends, and co-workers.”
According to the statement, the former social worker “admitted to a federal judge that, while employed as a civilian by the Department of Veterans Affairs at the Rhode Island Veterans Affairs Medical Center” and “used her position to misappropriate veterans’ identities, their combat experiences, their diagnoses of illnesses, and their valor to devise schemes to enrich herself,” gaining “$250,000 in cash, charitable donations, and services reserved for injured veterans.”
Cavanaugh also “claimed to have been wounded by an IED in Iraq and to have developed service-related cancer.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Cavanaugh gave speeches in a uniform and wore Purple Heart and Bronze Star decorations she had purchased online. The statement indicates she also used her claimed status as a veteran to “assume leadership roles in the veteran community,” including a Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Commander position, and to be admitted to an academic program at the University of Southern California.
A court document said multiple “media outlets reported on CAVANAUGH and her alleged military service at various events,” noting that photographs from one event “depict CAVANAUGH in a Marine Corps dress uniform wearing a Purple Heart medal and a Bronze Star, among other awards.”
The document indicated that Cavanaugh alerted suspicion by applying to one veteran-focused nonprofit for help with medical expenses. The nonprofit sought the help of an official at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to confirm Cavanaugh’s military background, and a resulting search of VA databases “found no evidence that CAVANAUGH ever served in the USMC.”
In addition to the prison sentence, U.S. District Court Chief Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. ordered that Cavanaugh be subject to three years of federal supervised release and pay $284,796.82 in reparations, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
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