PROVIDENCE, RI — A former social worker at a Rhode Island VA hospital who used stolen patient information to brazenly pose as a decorated Marine Corps veteran with cancer and fraudulently collected nearly $300,000 in benefits, charitable contributions and donations was sentenced Tuesday to nearly six years in prison.
A US district court in Providence also ordered 32-year-old Sarah Jane Cavanaugh to pay full restitution.
Cavanaugh attended public events in uniform where she spoke about the struggles veterans face, bought a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star to wear, and was even made the commander of a Veterans of Foreign Wars post. Then, in early 2022, she was exposed when a charity she applied to for funds became suspicious and began doing background checks on her.
«Sarah Cavanaugh’s conduct in the course of her scheme is nothing short of appalling,» US Attorney Zachary Cunha said in a statement. «By brazenly claiming the honor, service and sacrifice of true veterans, this defendant took advantage of the charity and decency of others for her own shameless financial gain.»
Cavanaugh’s defense attorney, Kensley Barrett, had sought a two-year sentence citing his lack of criminal record, low risk of recidivism and the «significant price» he has already paid for public disgrace, the loss of his professional license, the breakup of their marriage, and even online death threats.
Cavanaugh, who pleaded guilty in August to wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, forgery and misuse of medals, apologized in court.
There is no record that Cavanaugh ever served in the US military. However, she did work as a licensed social worker for the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Providence.
It was through his job that he gained access to documents, personal information, and medical records belonging to a real veteran with cancer, which he used to create fraudulent documents and medical records in her name stating that she had been honorably discharged and had cancer. the prosecutors said. she said when she was indicted last March.
When Cavanaugh said she couldn’t pay the insurance deductibles for her cancer treatment, the same veteran whose identity she had stolen and who is identified in court documents only by his initials, agreed to pay them for her, almost $600 a month, a act that «plumbed the depths of moral turpitude,» prosecutors said.
Cavanaugh said she served in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2009 to 2016, rose to the rank of corporal and was being treated for lung cancer as a result of exposure to combustion pits and inhalation of particles from a bomb blast, authorities said. .
She accepted more than $225,000 from the Wounded Warrior Project alone to help pay for yoga classes, gym membership, food and physical therapy, among other things, according to prosecutors.
She took her fraud to such extremes, authorities said, that she told people at her gym that injuries to her toes left her unable to tie her shoes, so someone else had to get down on their knees to tie her shoelaces whenever she wanted to. work. outside.
In a victim impact statement filed with the court, a real veteran he knew said he took a spot in a veteran art therapy program that could have gone to a veteran. The veteran told the court that a friend who applied for the program, known as CreatiVets, was not accepted and later took his own life. Cavanaugh received $15,000 from the program, according to court documents.
He received about $18,500 in financial assistance from Code of Support in Virginia for bills and about $4,700 from a fundraising website, prosecutors said.
An investigation was launched after the Providence nonprofit, the HunterSeven Foundation, which helps sick veterans, contacted the Providence VA because they were suspicious of Cavanaugh when he asked them for help.
Cavanaugh, who has also been ordered to pay full restitution, is sorry, her lawyer wrote in court documents. She suffered “severe trauma during her formative years in high school” and, through her work, she developed a connection to the veterans she cared for.
«Today’s sentencing sends a strong message to those who would present themselves as something they are not to benefit from the kindness and respect shown to our nation’s deserving veterans,» said Christopher Algieri, Bureau Chief. of the VA Inspector General’s Northeast Field. Office.