News and Press Releases

Dishonorably Discharged Sailor Used Army Vets Identity and Service Record for Benefits

March 19, 2010

JOSEPH W. WATSON, 53, of Seattle, Washington was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to 30 months in prison and three years of supervised release for two counts of Theft of Public Monies, Access Device Fraud, Bank Fraud, and Aggravated Identity Theft. WATSON stole the identity of a decorated Army Veteran and used his identity to get veterans’ medical benefits, and to commit bank fraud and credit card fraud. At sentencing U.S. District Judge Robert J. Bryan said, “These are important cases because they do substantial injury to innocent individuals, and they need to be treated seriously by the court.”

According to court filings, in June 2007, WATSON assumed the identity of a decorated Army veteran who was living in Maple Valley, Washington. At the time WATSON resided in Nashville, Tennessee. WATSON used the veteran’s identity to obtain treatment at a Veterans Affairs medical facility in Nashville. WATSON opened bank accounts in the victim’s name and accessed the victim’s credit card – changing the address on the account so that statements came to him in Nashville. WATSON defrauded the victim and Bank of America of nearly $20,000. In March 2008, WATSON moved to the Seattle area, and used the victim’s identity to get veterans’ medical benefits at VA facilities in Seattle and American Lake. The benefits totaled more than $18,000. WATSON was arrested in November 2009. He was found to have a number of false identification documents in the victim’s name, as well as forged documents in his own name. Some of the documents indicated WATSON had served eleven years in the Navy and been honorably discharged. In fact, WATSON was dishonorably discharged from the Navy in 1989, for desertion and criminal conduct.

In asking for a 36 month sentence Assistant United States Attorney Kurt Hermanns wrote to the court saying, “These sorts of crimes cause great difficulties for victims. In this case (the victim) had absolutely no connection to the defendant. It is that arbitrariness that makes this type of crime so insidious and perhaps so tempting to those inclined to commit it.”

The case was investigate by the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG).

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Kurt Hermanns.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110 or Emily.Langlie@USDOJ.Gov.

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