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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Fairport Man Pleads Guilty To False Claim Of PTSD To Get VA Disability Payments

CONTACT: Barbara Burns
PHONE: (716) 843-5817
FAX #: (716) 551-3051

ROCHESTER, N.Y. U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced that Michael Pecka, 33 of Fairport, NY, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Charles J. Siragusa to making a false official statement. The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, or both.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig R. Gestring, who is handling the case, stated that Pecka filed a claim for VA Disability Benefits in 2011 claiming that he had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from witnessing the suicide of two fellow soldiers while deployed to Kuwait in 2004-2005 with the Army Reserve. In support of his claim for PTSD, the defendant described in detail the two suicides that he claimed to have witnessed to include his distance from the soldiers, the manner in which they each committed suicide, his observation of the bodies, and his role in the investigations. As a result of this claim, Pecka received a high disability rating and was awarded tax free disability benefits of $3,167 per month. The defendant filed the initial claim while he was an inmate in federal prison for an unrelated bank fraud conviction.

Pecka repeated his false claims about observing the suicides on Official VA Forms, signed under penalty of perjury, in 2011 and 2014. However, an investigation by Special Agents of the VA Office of Inspector General determined that the defendant lied about being present for either suicide, lied about observing either suicide, lied about being involved in the investigation of either suicide, and in the case of one of the soldiers, was not even in the same country at the time he committed suicide. Pecka repeatedly stated under oath that he watched this soldier commit suicide, when in fact, the defendant was stationed over 6,000 miles away in Kuwait when the soldier committed suicide near Ft. Drum, NY. 

On May 24, 2018, Pecka provided statements to an undercover VA Office of Inspector General Special Agent whom the defendant believed to be a VA Field Examiner conducting a routine file update for his compensation claim. During that meeting, Pecka falsely told the agent that he personally witnessed the suicide of one of the soldier, now claiming that it happened while they were “on a mission” together. Pecka described the incident stating that soldier shot himself with his pistol without warning, and that he reported the incident to his First Sergeant. None of that was true. Regarding the second suicide, the defendant falsely claimed that he saw the muzzle fire from the discharge of that soldier’s rifle, discovered that victim in his vehicle, and then reported the suicide to Military Police. This too was a lie.
After making these statements to the undercover VA-OIG Special Agent, Pecka completed a new VA Statement in Support of Claim for Service Connection for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Form, in his own hand. In that statement, the defendant again falsely claimed that he saw both soldiers shoot themselves.

As a result of his false statements to the VA, Pecka received over $92,000 in tax free VA Disability benefits to which he was not legally entitled.

According to the National Center for PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health condition that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat. The condition may last months or years, with triggers that can bring back memories of the trauma accompanied by intense emotional and physical reactions. Symptoms may include nightmares or unwanted memories of the trauma, avoidance of situations that bring back memories of the trauma, heightened reactions, anxiety, or depressed mood. For further information on PTSD, treatment options, and how to obtain help from the Department of Veterans Affairs, please go to https://www.ptsd.va.gov/

The plea is the result of an investigation by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General, Criminal Investigations Division, Northeast Field Office, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge Sean J. Smith.

Pecka also has a pending violation of his supervised release conditions from the prior federal bank fraud conviction.

The defendant was ordered detained pending sentencing on both cases, which is scheduled for January 24, 2019, at 10:00 a.m. before Judge Siragusa.

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Updated October 23, 2018