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Man Who Collected Deceased Father's Federal Veteran's Benefits Sentenced to Four Years in Prison

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 31, 2011

Las Vegas, Nev. – A man who failed to report the death of his father, and collected his Veteran's Administration (VA) disability benefits for the next eight years, has been sentenced to four years in prison and ordered to pay restitution to the VA, announced Daniel G. Bogden, United States Attorney for Nevada.

Mark Lee Christian, 55, who pleaded guilty in January 2009 to theft of government property and making a false statement to a federal agent, was sentenced on Wednesday, March 30, 2011, by U.S. District Judge Kent J. Dawson to 48 months in prison, three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $79,265 in restitution and a $4,000 fine. Judge Dawson increased Christian's sentence approximately two years above the federal sentencing guideline range, finding that the defendant abused and neglected his father and concealed his dead body.

Christian's father, James Thomas Christian, a 74-year-old former World War II U.S. Navy fighter pilot, received monthly disability payments from the VA. James Christian suffered from advanced Parkinson's disease, and in 1997 had given power of attorney to the defendant to manage his financial, medical, and personal affairs.

In 2006, the VA received a letter from the defendant's estranged wife urging the VA to investigate the death of the defendant's father and the defendant's continued receipt of his VA benefits. Upon investigation, the defendant in April 2007, told a VA criminal investigator that his father was alive and in the care of the defendant's brother. The defendant further said that it was untrue that he had previously told his estranged wife and sister that his father had died in 1999. Moments later, the defendant admitted to the investigator that his father had died in 1999 in their apartment in Las Vegas due to breathing problems. Christian admitted that he did not call for emergency help or report the death to the coroner or the VA. Christian told the investigator that he had buried his father in the forest in San Bernardino County, California, and he provided the investigator directions to the grave site. Two days later, in May 2007, the VA investigator and California authorities excavated the site and recovered the skeletal remains of the defendant's father. The cause of death was officially undetermined, but medical testimony indicated that the most likely cause of death was manual strangulation. The defendant's father also suffered a partially-healed severe facial fracture which had never been medically treated.

Evidence showed that following the death of his father in March 1999, the defendant taped his father's body, including the wrists, head and face, arms, legs and ankles and rolled it in a blanket without placing clothing or shoes on the body. He transported the body to a remote area of the San Bernardino Mountains in California where he buried it in an unmarked grave. Thereafter, the defendant moved overseas for some time, where he continued to collect his father's VA disability benefits, specifically from March 1999 to May 2007, totaling approximately $79,265. In 2001, the defendant also forged his deceased father's signature on a VA form, fraudulently representing that James Christian remained eligible to receive benefits. Upon death, the right to receive VA benefits terminates.

In August 2009, the State of California charged Christian with the murder of his father; however, a jury acquitted him in August 2010. The United States at sentencing argued for a substantial upward departure from the 21- to 27-month sentencing guideline range based in part on the evidence presented in the murder trial. Judge Dawson found clear evidence that the defendant had abused and neglected his father, and that he had concealed the body in preparation for the offense of theft of government property.

The case was investigated by the Veteran's Administration Office of the Inspector General, and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Christina M. Brown.

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