LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — A Michigan woman was sentenced on Dec. 4 to three years and five months in prison after pleading guilty to carrying out a scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) of more than $1.7 million in veterans benefits.
The sentencing was announced by U.S. Attorney Nicholas A. Trutanich for the District of Nevada.
“The defendant orchestrated a million-dollar scheme to defraud the VA and to deceive the elderly veterans and surviving spouses whose names she used,” said U.S. Attorney Trutanich. “As part of the Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative, our office and our partners are committed to safeguarding our seniors and prosecuting those who take advantage of them.”
Claudia Ann Merrill, 62, of Farmington Hills, MI, pleaded guilty in January to one count of mail fraud.
In addition to the prison term, U.S. District Judge James C. Mahan sentenced Merrill to three years of supervised release. Merrill agreed to pay a criminal forfeiture money judgment of $1,775,271.61 and was ordered to pay $1,755,412.79 in restitution to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
According to court documents, from Jan. 1, 2014, through Oct. 1, 2019, Merrill carried out a scheme to defraud the VA.
Merrill approached elderly veterans and surviving spouses and falsely told them they were eligible for VA benefits.
Merrill offered to fill out applications for them, and she also convinced them to sign blank application forms and provide identification documents. Merrill then submitted false applications for Veteran’s Pension and Aid and Attendance benefits in the names of these beneficiaries.
As part of the scheme, Merrill altered medical records so that the beneficiaries would appear to be eligible for the benefits.
Merrill fraudulently directed benefit payments into bank accounts she controlled, without informing the beneficiaries.
When veterans or their surviving spouses reached out to the VA to inquire about their benefits, Merrill often ceased contact with them, leaving the elderly veteran or surviving spouse to unravel Merrill’s fraud.
In one case, Merrill sued a veteran, demanding that he pay Merrill the proceeds of her fraudulent scheme. Through the scheme, Merrill defrauded the VA of $1,755,412 in benefit payments.
This case was a joint investigation by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General and the FBI. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Oliva prosecuted the case.