RI woman who faked military service and cancer will serve six years in prison


Sarah Cavanaugh, 32, has never served in Afghanistan or Iraq. On Tuesday, a judge ordered him to serve nearly six years in prison.

Sarah Jane Cavanaugh posed as a Marine veteran with a Purple Heart and Bronze star at a Purple Heart Trail dedication ceremony in Rhode Island. The Independent Journal / US District Court of Rhode Island

A woman from Rhode Island who falsely claimed to be a Marine Corps. A cancer veteran – who used her fraud to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in charitable donations and aid – was sentenced to nearly six years in prison on Tuesday.

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Sarah Cavanaugh, 32, pleaded guilty in August to wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, forgery and fraudulent use of medals.

In Providence, Chief U.S. District Judge John J. McConnell Jr. sentenced Cavanaugh to five years and 10 months in prison – the sentence sought by federal prosecutors. McConnell also ordered him to pay restitution totaling $284,796.82 to all of his victims.

Cavanaugh falsified records she had access to through her work as a social worker at the Veterans Medical Center to rack up fabrications that she was a decorated veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, The Boston Globe reports.

Her lies propelled her to serve as commandant of a Foreign Wars Veterans post in North Kingstown and earned her more than $250,000 in charitable support, ranging from yoga classes and retreats to a home caretaker. , according to the newspaper.

She also received over $5,000 from a military veteran with cancer.

“She took advantage of people’s compassion, sympathy and kindness,” said federal prosecutor Ronald Gendron.

Rhode Island U.S. Attorney Zachary Cunha called Cavanaugh’s conduct “nothing less than appalling.”

How the fraud happened

According to Worldthe lies began shortly after Cavanaugh started working at the VA in 2015.

She claimed she was a veteran who was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, with a V device, which denotes heroism. Cavanaugh also said she suffered a traumatic brain injury from an attack by an improvised explosive device and said she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

She told those around her that exposure to combustion sources while serving overseas and IED particles had given her cancer, World reports.

She used her VA email to get medals: she requested a shipment of a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star from a company in San Diego. To back up her claims with records, she accessed a VA patient’s DD Form 214 — the documents veterans receive upon leaving the military — and swapped the name.

Cavanaugh also befriended a military veteran, Justin Hsu, at VFW Post 152 in North Kingstown.

Hsu has stage 4 lung cancer – and Cavanaugh told her that she does too, according to the World. Cavanaugh was eventually able to access Hsu VA’s medical records and alter them to help him commit his fraud.

Afterwards, Cavanaugh told Hsu she needed help with her medical bills.

In turn, Hsu gave her over $5,000 for the treatment she would need.

“I don’t know what kind of person can do that to someone with a terminal illness,” Hsu said in court on Tuesday.

Cavanaugh benefited from the generosity of nine veterans’ charities – money that funded ‘trips to pensions, home care, gym memberships, physiotherapy, paying electricity bills and provided gift cards to be used for groceries and other essentials,” prosecutors said in a statement.

“Cavanaugh also used forged documents to fraudulently obtain months of paid vacation from two federal employee benefit programs based on his cancer claims,” ​​officials said.

Cavanaugh spent the money on gifts for his girlfriend, trips and expensive clothes, the World reports.

Additionally, Cavanaugh gave public speeches while donning a full Navy uniform and landed a spot in an arts program at the University of Southern California, “a program she described to a veteran of the Navy. U.S. military whom she met through the Wounded Warrior program who was later accepted into the program,” prosecutors said.

“In a letter to the court, the Army veteran blamed Cavanaugh for taking ‘a spot (in the program) from another veteran who could have been on the program and ultimately not getting in.’ may not have committed suicide,'” officials said.

According to Worldthe five-year program came to light when Cavanaugh attempted to receive funding through the nonprofit HunterSeven Foundation.

The organization reviewed Cavanaugh’s background and contacted the VA, which, in turn, called VA police when the agency could not find evidence of Cavanaugh’s claims, the newspaper reports.

What Cavanaugh said in court

Through his lawyer, Cavanaugh had asked for a prison sentence of two years and a day.

She told the judge on Tuesday that she was sorry.

“All I ask is that you give me a chance to rebuild my life in a healthy and useful way,” Cavanaugh said, according to the World.

Her attorney, Kensley Barrett, a veteran, acknowledged Cavanaugh’s actions were wrongful, but argued they were related to the trauma she suffered as a child.

However, McConnell, the judge, said the sexual abuse Cavanaugh allegedly suffered in her past did not provide a full explanation as to why she made the claims she did.

“Sarah Cavanaugh faked cancer and falsely claimed bravery where there was none, to win hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits and charitable donations,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston division, in a statement. “Her actions are an insult to all veterans who have served our country, and today she learned her fate for her criminal conduct.”


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