Portsmouth Woman Sentenced for Fraud Schemes Targeting Veterans
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – A Portsmouth woman was sentenced today to 9.5 years in prison for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with a scheme to defraud veterans.
“What is most egregious about the defendant’s conduct is that she used her own status as a former veteran to defraud and take advantage of other veterans,” said Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia. “The sentence imposed in this case reflects the serious nature of these fraud schemes and the potential consequences that those who victimize veterans, who have sacrificed so much for our country, could face in the Eastern District of Virginia.”
According to court documents, Rita Copeland, 59, operated an entity known as “Veteran Services of the Commonwealth.” From 2016 through 2020, Copeland purported to provide caregiving, contracting, and rental assistance services to various veterans. Copeland caused a number of victims to apply for Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA) grants through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Such grant payments are to be used for certain designated improvements to the residences of veterans. Copeland 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 diverted the income and retirement fund payments of another veteran to a bank account that she had opened. In addition, Copeland fraudulently obtained and diverted loan funds and used the credit and debit cards of this elderly victim. Finally, Copeland engaged in a rental fraud scheme, purporting to link veterans and others with landlords, but then diverted rental and security deposit payments to her own benefit. In total, from at least 2017-2020, Copeland’s fraud schemes impacted at least 29 victims, resulting in a combined loss of approximately $430,000.
Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Brian Dugan, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Norfolk Field Office; and Michael J. Missal, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, made the announcement after sentencing by Senior U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Samuels prosecuted the case.
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.
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.