HomeNewsWoman Guilty of Defrauding Military Groups, US Gov’t Gets Nearly 6 Years in Prison

Woman Guilty of Defrauding Military Groups, US Gov’t Gets Nearly 6 Years in Prison

by TK Sanders
(Photo by Peyton Williams/UNC/Getty Images)

A Rhode Island woman will go to jail for fraud after posing as an ailing military veteran in order to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits and charitable contributions. A judge just issued the fraudster a nearly six year federal prison sentence, the Department of Justice said Tuesday

Sarah Jane Cavanaugh falsified claims that she earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star as a decorated Marine wounded by an IED in Iraq. Cavanaugh, 32, who never even served in the military, also claimed that she had cancer, which directly stemmed from her time in the military.

Back in March 2022, prosecutors charged Cavanaugh with possessing forged military discharge certificates, wire fraud, ‘stolen valor’ with intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit, and aggravated identity theft. In August 2022, she pled guilty to several of those charges. She pled guilty to wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, forged military discharge certificate, and fraudulent use of military medals.

Her crimes earned her 70 months in prison and a subsequent three years of supervised release. Of course, she will also have to pay back the nearly $280,000 she defrauded from the government and donors.

So how did she even concoct such a slimy scheme of military fraud?

Cavanaugh worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs at the Rhode Island Veterans Affairs Medical Center. According to a news release from the Department of Justice, Cavanaugh used her access and insider knowledge of the system to “misappropriate veterans’ identities, their combat experiences, their diagnoses of illnesses, and their valor to devise schemes to enrich herself.”

Previous CBS reports detailed how much money Cavanaugh received from different orgs and how she spent the money. She collected $207,000 from a Wounded Warrior program to pay for groceries and physical therapy; she also collected around $18,500 from a vets program in Virginia for mortgage payments, home repairs, a gym membership and other bills. Another $4,700 came from a fundraising website, and yet another another $16,000 came from CreatiVets, a charity that provides art therapy for veterans. Cavanaugh also falsified a cancer diagnosis to receive months of paid leave as a federal employee.

As she got better at the ruse, Cavanaugh began doubling down on the act. For example, she strove for leadership roles in the veteran community, acting as a commander of a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Rhode Island. She even gave speeches in a full U.S. Marine uniform, complete with awards and medals she purchased online.

The DOJ referred to her military scheme as “near-daily criminal conduct,” and said she operated in a “methodical and calculated manner” to commit crimes “among the more reprehensible seen in this District from a fraud defendant.”

So how did she get caught? The Providence Veteran’s Association launched an investigation after a local organization, HunterSeven, which helps veterans with cancer, became suspicious of her requests.