‘Stolen Valor’ Woman Who Posed as Wounded Marine Sentenced to Prison
A Rhode Island woman who pretended to be a sick, wounded marine to collect charity donations will spend the next six years behind bars in federal prison. Sarah Cavanaugh reportedly raised hundreds of thousands of dollars by faking a cancer diagnosis and telling people she was a purple heart recipient. The Department of Justice described Cavanaugh’s scam as “near-daily criminal conduct.”
“When I look at what this defendant did, I think the bottom line is that it’s simply appalling,” U.S. Attorney Zachary Cunha said in a press release.
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Cavanaugh, 32, claimed to be a decorated Marine wounded by an IED blast in Iraq. She can be seen in photos wearing several medals, including a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. She also told people that she had developed service-related cancer.
One year ago, she was charged with using forged or counterfeited military discharge certificates, wire fraud, fraudulently holding herself out to be a medal recipient with the intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit, and aggravated identity theft. She pled guilty to several of those charges.
This week, she was sentenced by a federal judge to 70 months in prison, with an additional three years of supervised release.
As part of her sentence, Cavanaugh will be expected to repay the $284,796.82 she stole from her stolen valor scam.
During her scam, Cavanaugh was employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs at the Rhode Island Veterans Affairs Medical Center. According to a press statement from the Justice Department, Cavanaugh used her position at the VA to jumpstart her scam,
Cavanaugh used an official Veterans Administration (VA) email account, which was issued to her as a VA employee, to purchase and later display on a Marine uniform a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
Cavanaugh reportedly obtained more than $200,000 from the Wounded Warrior Project intended for groceries and physical therapy. She also collected nearly $40,000 from various other veterans’ charities and fundraisers for “financial assistance for mortgage payments, repairs to her home furnace, a gym membership, and for other unspecified bills,” according to a Justice Department statement.
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Cavanaugh is also reported to have taken on leadership roles in the local veteran’s community, acting as a commander in the Rhode Island Veterans of Foreign Wars post and giving speeches in full military dress. She was eventually caught after one of the charities she was targeting, HunterSeven, was made suspicious by her repeated requests for aid.
“By brazenly laying claim to the honor, service, and sacrifice of real veterans, this defendant preyed on the charity and decency of others for her own shameless financial gain. I am grateful that, with today’s sentence, she has been brought to justice and will face the consequences of her actions,” U.S. Attorney Cunha said.
At the trial, Cavanaugh’s victims shared emotional testimony, including a veteran with stage 4 cancer whose medical records Cavanaugh reportedly stole. After a tearful apology in court, she was hauled away by U.S. Marshals.
The North Kingstown Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 152 will get more than $6,000 in restitution, according to a report by NBC 10 News.
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