Woman Who Faked Being Cancer-Stricken Ex-Marine Sentenced to Prison

Photo Credit: 
Sora Shimazaki / Pexels
Photo Credit: Sora Shimazaki / Pexels

UPDATE – 03/16/2023:

Sarah Cavanaugh, who faked being a cancer-stricken ex-US Marine, has been sentenced to 70 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release. On top of this, she’s been ordered to pay over $284,000 in restitution, and 261 hours of paid leave donated to her by federal employees has been reinstated.

Exterior of a Veterans of Foreign Affairs post
Photo Credit: Bonnie Jo Mount / The Washington Post / Getty Images

Word of Cavanaugh’s sentence comes months after she admitted to a federal judge that she “used her position to misappropriate veterans’ identities, their combat experiences, their diagnoses of illnesses, and their valor to devise schemes to enrich herself by using the stolen information to obtain more than $250,000 in cash, charitable donations and services reserved for injured veterans.”

She committed her crimes over the span of five years, with court documents describing her actions as being “among the most reprehensible seen in this District from a fraud defendant.”

At the time of her arrest, Cavanaugh was the commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 152 in Kingstown, Rhode Island. According to Task & Purpose, VFW Post 152 has seen a 50 percent decrease in the number of corporate donations it’s received since news of her actions first broke. As well, several local organizations have cut ties, citing a lack of trust in how their funds will be spent.

US Army Honor Guard holding three Purple Hearts
Photo Credit: Alex Wong / Getty Images

“Today’s sentencing sends a strong message to those who would represent themselves as something they’re not in order to profit from the kindness and respect shown to our nation’s deserving veterans,” said Special Agent in Charge Christopher Algieri of the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General’s Northeast Field Office.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE – 03/15/2022:

Former Veterans Affairs medical center employee Sarah Cavanaugh, from Rhode Island, has been charged in federal court with defrauding veterans charities after claiming to be a US Marine Corps veteran with stage 4 cancer.

Cavanaugh was arrested following an investigation into allegations of fraud. Upon being arrested, she was charged with using or exhibiting a falsified military discharge certificate; wire fraud; fraudulently presenting herself as a recipient of a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with Valor with the intent to obtain money or other tangible benefits; and aggravated identity theft.

Three of the charges carry maximum penalties of one-to-two years imprisonment, with the maximum sentence for wire fraud being 20 years. Each also has a maximum fine of between $100,000 and $250,000.

Purple Heart on display
Photo Credit: Ben Hasty / MediaNews Group / Reading Eagle / Getty Images

According to court documents, Sarah Cavanaugh allegedly defrauded over $200,000 from veterans organizations by claiming to be a Marine veteran who’d developed stage 4 adenocarcinoma, which can lead to various organ cancers, as a result of her combat service. However, there is no record of her having ever served in the US military.

Among the veterans’ organizations affected by Cavanaugh’s alleged actions are the Wounded Warrior Project, which gave her $207,000 for physical therapy and groceries; a fundraising website that provided her with $4,700; and the Code of Support Foundation, which paid her $18,500. She used the money to purchase a gym membership, pay her mortgage and other bills, and repair her home’s furnace.

She also collected $16,000 from CreatiVets.

Suspicion arose regarding Sarah Cavanaugh’s claims in January 2022, after she’d sought additional funds from the HunterSeven Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on veteran advocacy and cancer research. She’d provided the organization with VA medical records, hospital bills and a copy of a DD Form 214 separation document.

After HunterSeven posted Cavanaugh’s story to its Instagram account, Lt. Cmdr. Amy Forsythe, a US Navy Reserve public affairs officer who spent 18 years in the Marines, noticed several inconsistencies. These included issues with her uniform – her collar was backward and her earrings were out of regulation – and the fact she’d never heard of the woman, nor that she’d received a Purple Heart or Bronze Star, despite her claims.

Forsythe informed HunterSeven of this and the organization immediately canceled a check that had been sent to Cavanaugh.

Hands holding a Bronze Star and American flag
Photo Credit: Ben McCanna / Portland Press Herald / Getty Images

According to court documents, it’s alleged Sarah Cavanaugh copied the medical records of a real patient under the care of the VA medical office, where she worked up until the end of January. They also allege she used her work email to obtain the Purple Heart and Bronze Star displayed on a Marine uniform she owned.

A judge signed a warrant in February, allowing police to conduct a raid of her residence. During it, they seized several laptops, cellphones and USB devices, as well as notebooks, a firearm, clothing and other personal belongings.

Cavanaugh was arraigned virtually on March 14, 2022 in the US District Court for the District of Rhode Island. During the arraignment, Assistant US Attorney Ronald Gendron described her as someone who “could be so cold-hearted as purport to be a cancer-stricken ex-Marine.”

He added, “It seems that anything that was out there, any pot of money that she placed her hands on, she used fraud to try and acquire it.”

US Marines saluting in uniform
Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

More from us: Fake Veteran Sent To Prison After Stealing $300,000 In VA Services

The judge released Cavanaugh on a $50,000 unsecured bond, saying she didn’t pose a flight risk and wasn’t a danger to herself or the public. Her next court date has not yet been set.

Clare Fitzgerald

Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

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