PROVIDENCE — A former North Kingstown VFW commanding officer agreed Tuesday to plead guilty to charges of defrauding veteran charities of more than $250,000 by posing as an ex-Marine battling a cancer diagnosis severe due to toxic exposure on battlefields.
Sarah Jane Cavanaugh, 31, of East Greenwich, will plead guilty to charges of fraud, aggravated impersonation, forgery and fraudulent use of medals, U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Cunha announced on Tuesday.
In exchange for her confession, federal prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence at the bottom of the sentencing guidelines in which she faces a maximum of 24 years behind bars. The plea agreement specifies that the sentence she receives for wire fraud will be served consecutively to the mandatory two years in which she faces a prison sentence for aggravated identity theft.
She also paid $82,489 in restitution to the federal government for the sale of her former home.
How Cavanaugh allegedly lied to get over $200,000
Cavanaugh is accused of using her position as a social worker at Providence VA Medical Center to obtain a cancer patient’s medical records and pass them off as her own in order to obtain more than $200,000 from the Wounded Warrior Project and other charitable groups dedicated to helping the injured. Veterans. According to federal authorities, however, a search of US Department of Defense records revealed that she had never served in any branch of the US military.
After: Ex-VFW commander accused of faking military service charged with fraud and impersonation
After: Ex-VFW commander allegedly passed off VA patient’s cancer diagnosis as his own
Cavanaugh is also accused of posing as a wounded veteran who served overseas in the United States Marine Corps and falsely presenting herself as the recipient of a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. Photos have appeared in local media showing her in full uniform wearing replica medals, which authorities say they purchased online.
Cavanaugh resigned from VFW Post 152 in January amid allegations that she faked military service and lied about stage IV lung cancer in order to solicit donations online.
She claimed she had lung cancer due to exposure to hotbeds in Iraq and Afghanistan, and inhalation of particulate matter following an improvised explosive device attack, said investigators.
As evidence, Cavanaugh provided records of a cancer diagnosis and copies of medical bills showing she was undergoing cancer treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. She also gave the charity a copy of the military discharge certificate known as DD-214, according to a federal affidavit requesting a search warrant for her home.
The truth revealed
The ruse began to unravel, authorities said, when the HunterSeven Foundation, a veterans advocacy group, contacted Providence VA Medical Center in late January to confirm Cavanaugh had been in the Marines. Instead, federal databases revealed she had never served in the military.
In March, federal prosecutors charged her with four counts of fraud and aggravated impersonation.
U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Lincoln Almond agreed to release Cavanaugh on $50,000 bond with conditions over the objections of Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald R. Gendron.
Cavanaugh is represented by Kensley R. Barrett and Nicholas J. Parrillo.
State lawmakers passed a law criminalizing stolen bravery as a result of Cavanaugh’s allegations.
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Former VFW Commander Cavanaugh agrees to admit guilt in fraudulent scheme