PROVIDENCE – A Rhode Island woman today admitted to a federal judge that she falsely claimed to be a cancer-stricken U.S. Marine decorated with the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, and that she used those claims, the stolen identities of actual veterans, and fraudulent documents that she created to obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars in charitable benefits and services intended for injured veterans, announced United States Attorney Zachary A. Cunha.
Sarah Jane Cavanaugh, 31, admitted that she falsely portrayed herself as a wounded veteran who had served overseas and been awarded both the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, replicas of which she purchased and publicly displayed on a U.S. Marine uniform she wore at public events.
A search of Defense Department records indicates Cavanaugh never served in any branch of the U.S. military.
Additionally, Cavanaugh admitted that, while employed by the Department of Veteran Affairs at the Rhode Island Veterans Affairs Medical Center, she used her position as a licensed social worker, to gain access to documents, personal information, and medical records belonging to a Marine and a Navy veteran who was battling cancer. Cavanaugh admitted that she used this information to create fraudulent documents and medical records in her own name, indicating that she was an honorably discharged Marine stricken with cancer. In addition, Cavanaugh admitted that she created and used fraudulent documents in various schemes to obtain more than $250,000 in cash, charitable donations, and services reserved for injured veterans.
“Every day, thousands of American men and women honorably serve this country in uniform,” said U.S. Attorney Cunha. “They sacrifice for our safety, putting themselves in harm’s way, often without praise or public recognition, and they deserve our thanks and our respect. This Defendant sought to trade on that respect -- respect she did not earn, evoked by a uniform to which she had no claim -- by pretending that she was a United States Marine battling stage IV cancer, in order to trick generous members of the public into lining her pockets. Her conduct is disgraceful, and it richly warrants her conviction today as a federal felon.”
“What Sarah Cavanaugh did is despicable and an insult to the brave men and women who have selflessly risked their lives, and made real sacrifices in service to this country,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division. “Now this fraudster is a convicted felon for claiming valor where there is none, and for swindling more than a quarter of a million dollars in benefits and charitable donations from unsuspecting citizens who wanted nothing more than to help deserving veterans.”
Under the terms of a plea agreement reached on July 1, 2022, Cavanaugh has agreed that the final amount of restitution owed to her victims will be determined by the Court at the time of sentencing; she has also agreed, however, that $82,489.73, which represents her proceeds from her recent sale of real estate, will be applied towards her restitution obligations. At the time of sentencing, Cavanaugh faces a mandatory minimum sentence of two years imprisonment, which will be served consecutively to any other sentence of imprisonment that the Court may impose. Cavanaugh’s final sentence will be determined by a federal district judge after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. Cavanaugh is scheduled to be sentenced on November10, 2022.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald R. Gendron. The matter was investigated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Police Service; and the FBI, with the assistance of the U.S. Defense Criminal Investigative Service; U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service; U.S. Postal Inspection Service; and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations.