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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Virginia

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, October 9, 2020

Portsmouth Woman Charged with Fraud Scheme Targeting Veterans

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – A federal grand jury returned an indictment today charging a Portsmouth woman with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with a scheme to defraud veterans.

According to allegations in the indictment, Rita Copeland, 59, operated an entity known as “Veteran Services of the Commonwealth.” Copeland purported to provide caregiving, contracting and rental assistance services to various veterans from 2016 through 2019. Copeland allegedly caused a number of victims to apply for Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA) grants through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Such grant payments are to be used for certain designated improvements to the residences of veterans. Copeland allegedly failed to perform all of the promised work and used a portion of these payments to her own benefit, contrary to the designated purposes of the funds. Copeland also allegedly diverted the income and retirement fund payments of another veteran to a bank account that she had opened. Copeland also allegedly fraudulently obtained and diverted loan funds and used the credit and debit cards of this elderly victim. Finally, Copeland also allegedly engaged in a rental fraud scheme, purporting to link veterans with landlords, but then diverting rental and security deposit payments to her own benefit.

Copeland is charged with eight counts of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. If convicted, Copeland faces a maximum penalty of 20 years on the wire fraud charges and a mandatory consecutive term of two years on the aggravated identity theft charge. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Combatting elder abuse and financial fraud targeted at seniors is a key priority of the Department of Justice. Elder abuse is an intentional or negligent act by any person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to an older adult. It is a term used to describe five subtypes of elder abuse:  physical abuse, financial fraud, scams and exploitation, caregiver neglect and abandonment, psychological abuse, and sexual abuse. Elder abuse is a serious crime against some of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens, affecting at least 10 percent of older Americans every year. Together with our federal, state, local and tribal partners, the Department of Justice is steadfastly committed to combatting all forms of elder abuse and financial exploitation through enforcement actions, training and resources, research, victim services, and public awareness. This holistic and robust response demonstrates the Department’s unwavering dedication to fighting for justice for older Americans.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Martin Culbreth, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Norfolk Field Office, made the announcement. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Samuels is prosecuting the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 4:20-cr-63.

An indictment is merely an accusation. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Topic(s): 
Elder Justice
Financial Fraud
Contact: 
Joshua Stueve Director of Public Affairs joshua.stueve@usdoj.gov
Updated October 9, 2020