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FEDERAL INVESTIGATORS UNVEIL “OPERATION FINAL PAYMENT” TARGETING VETERANS BENEFIT FRAUD
Investigators Save Nearly $1.5 Million by Stopping Payments to Unqualified Recipients

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 22, 2010

U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan today announced the results of “Operation Final Payment,” an effort to ensure that Veterans benefits reach those who have earned them, and are not fraudulently paid out. Led by the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG), the operation identified for prosecution more than a dozen people who illegally continued to access veterans benefits for their own use after the veteran, or the veteran’s spouse, was deceased. In one instance, a defendant allegedly obtained more than $100,000 in benefits she did not deserve.

“It is crucial that we safeguard the benefits our veterans so justly deserve,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. “We want to make sure that those who have honorably served our country, get their full benefits, and not have these funds depleted by fraud.”

“The Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General investigates violations of criminal law affecting VA programs and VA facilities. The corrupt activities, uncovered during Operation Final Payment, served to divert precious financial resources from the VA’s critical mission --- of providing medical care and benefits to deserving veterans --- into the hands of unscrupulous individuals,” said Michael Seitler, Special Agent in Charge of the VA Office of Inspector General, Northwest Field Office. “The VA Office of Inspector General is committed to aggressively ferreting out this type of fraud and holding those responsible accountable for their actions.”

Three defendants were arraigned today in U.S. District Court in Seattle and Tacoma. In all, seven cases are being prosecuted, and additional investigations are under way.

SANDRA LAVERTY, 54 of Bellevue, Washington, was arraigned in U.S. District Court in Seattle today for Theft of Government Property. The indictment alleges that for nearly nine years, following her mother’s death, LAVERTY continued to access veteran’s benefits from their joint account. The loss amount stated in court was $129,836.

HOWARD W. CLARK, 67, of Graham, Washington, will be arraigned today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma for Theft of Government Property. The indictment alleges that CLARK continued to access benefits received by his significant other, a veteran, after her death. The loss amount stated in court was $44,903.

WILLIAM MILLHOLLIN, 56, of Graham, Washington, will be arraigned in U.S. District Court in Tacoma today for Theft of Government property. The indictment alleges MILLHOLLIN continued receive and cash veteran benefits checks that belonged to his sister after her death. The loss amount stated in court was $15,605.

Additionally, an indictment was returned against MARK RUFENER, 49, of Seattle, for Theft of Government Property. RUFENER will be arraigned in December. The indictment alleges RUFENER accessed the VA benefits of a roommate for four years following the roommate’s death. The loss amount was more than $77,000.

The charges contained in the indictment are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Three defendants identified in the operation have already pleaded guilty.

WILLIAM S. BENNETT Jr., 57, of Bellevue, Washington, was sentenced in March 2010, to three years probation and 120 hours of community service, for continuing to access his mother’s veteran survivor benefits three years after her death. The loss amount was more than $46,000. BENNETT has repaid the money.

JACKIE ANN COURTNEY, 52, of Bremerton, Washington, was sentenced in May 2010, to five years probation and 120 hours of community service, for continuing to access her mother’s veteran survivor benefits five years after her death. COURTNEY’s mother was the survivor of a veteran. COURTNEY owes $75,258 in restitution.

GARY REDD, 49, of Gresham, Oregon, pleaded guilty to Theft by Deception for accessing $61,792 in benefits after the death of a relative who was a veteran.

A fourth person settled their case civilly. Robin Carter, 52, of Yelm, Washington, admitted that he continued to access payments to his mother’s bank account for over five years after her death. Carter has agreed to repay the government $51,313.

Operation Final Payment is ongoing, and additional defendants may be charged.

These cases were all investigated by the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG), Seattle Resident Agency. The VA Office of the Inspector General operates a HOTLINE for the public to confidentially report crimes involving VA or its programs. Call 800-488-8244, or fax to 202-565-7936, or e-mail to vaoighotline@va.gov, or write to VA OIG HOTLINE, PO Box 50410, Washington, DC 20091-0410.

The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Thomas Woods, Marci Ellsworth, Sunni Ko, Johanna Vanderlee, and Harold Malkin.

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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