PHILADELPHIA – Acting United States Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams announced that Richard Meleski, 58, of Chalfont, PA, was sentenced to three years and four months in prison, three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $302,121 in restitution for a particularly disgraceful fraud scheme to steal Veterans Administration (VA) benefits by pretending to be a veteran who had been captured by the enemy during combat.
In July 2020, the defendant pleaded guilty to one count of healthcare fraud, two counts of mail fraud, one count of stolen valor, two counts of fraudulent military papers, as well as two counts of aiding and abetting straw purchases, and one count of making false statements in connection with receiving Social Security Administration disability benefits.
The charges stemmed from Meleski fraudulently claiming to have served as an elite Navy SEAL and falsely representing that he had been a Prisoner of War in order to secure healthcare benefits from the VA worth over $300,000. Due to his false representation as a Prisoner of War, the defendant received healthcare from the VA in Priority Group 3, effectively receiving healthcare before other deserving military service members. In reality, Meleski never served one day in the United States military.
The defendant also filed for monetary compensation from the VA for PTSD suffered during an armed conflict in Beirut in which he rescued injured teammates. In his application for disability benefits for PTSD, Meleski falsely represented that he had been awarded the Silver Star for his heroic actions during his time as a Navy SEAL. Again, Meleski never served a single day in the United States military and was never awarded such commendation. Meleski also submitted another application to the VA for monetary compensation in which he included obituaries of actual Navy SEALs alongside whom he falsely said he had served. He traded on the actions of these true service members in an attempt to bolster his application for monetary benefits.
The defendant also filed for disability benefits from The United States Social Security Administration (SSA) for injuries he claimed to have received during his time in the military. Meleski falsely testified under oath in connection with an SSA Disability proceeding.
“The defendant faked a record as a decorated U.S. Navy SEAL in order to collect numerous forms of taxpayer-funded compensation,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Williams. “The fact that Meleski chose to put himself ahead of true war heroes in order to take advantage of benefits designed specifically for those serving in the U.S. military is profoundly offensive. Our veterans fought for the freedoms we hold dear, and as we approach the twentieth anniversary of the attacks of 9/11 this Saturday, their sacrifices are even more meaningful. The defendant’s actions dishonor all of their legacies.”
“We are grateful to our federal partners for their work in pursuing and prosecuting those who impersonate our nation’s hero’s and unlawfully obtain benefits meant for those who served,” said RADM Karen Flaherty-Oxler (RET), Medical Center Director for the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz (Philadelphia) VA Medical Center. “It is disheartening to see someone who benefited from the service of our Veterans, dishonor them in this manner. Nonetheless, our day-to-day mission of caring for our Veterans continues uninterrupted and with the same vigor and commitment.”
“Today’s sentence sends a clear message that those who benefit from falsely claiming to have served in the United States military will be held accountable,” said Special Agent in Charge Christopher Algieri, Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General, Northeast Field Office. “The VA OIG appreciates the support of the United States Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners in securing justice for our nation’s true heroes.”
“This defendant defrauded the government in many different ways for several years,” said Matthew Varisco, Special Agent in charge of ATF’s Philadelphia Field Division. “The outcome of this investigation is the result of several law enforcement agencies working together for a common goal – to keep our communities safe from criminals like Meleski. I want to thank our law enforcement partners at the VA OIG, SSA OIG and the U.S Attorney’s Office for this successful prosecution.”
The case was investigated by Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General, Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and it is being prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Megan Curran.
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