Stolen Valor: Richard Meleski, 58, of Chalfont, Pennsylvania, has plead guilty to defrauding the Department of Veterans Affairs by pretending to be a Navy SEAL, a Silver Star recipient and a prisoner of war for the purpose of gaining over $300,000 worth of free healthcare. The charges include healthcare fraud, stolen valor, and abetting illicit gun purchases.
Meleski was indicted in November 2019 for the scheme which also included receiving money for post-traumatic stress he claimed to suffer from after serving in Beirut where he alleged that had rescued other wounded troops.
He also submitted an application for compensation to the VA in which he included obituaries of Navy SEALs he claimed to have served next to.
According to officials at the Department of Justice, Meleski used the actions of true heroes to support his false application for benefits.
The DOJ alleges that Meleski never served a single day in the military and has earned no medals reports Valor Guardians on their website. The indictment accuses Meleski of claiming a number of combat-related injuries.
He claimed to have been involved in an 18-hour hostile takeover in which he became a POW, was shot, beaten and tortured. He claimed to have been hospitalized in Germany for his injuries which included a crushed hand and shrapnel. He also stated that he injured his knee when he jumped out of a window with a dead SEAL on his back.
According to his application, his service occurred in the 1980s.
Meleski is alleged to have filed for benefits from the US Social Security Administration for injuries he claimed to have received during his service. He is also accused of lying while under oath during an SSA disability hearing.
After being arrested for fraud, Meleski was found to have aided the straw purchase of two guns for people who were not legally able to buy them for themselves.
Because Meleski claimed to have been a POW, he received benefits “completely free with no copay or premiums” before actual veterans who had actual need for them.
US Attorney William M. McSwain issued a statement which called everything about the case “profoundly offensive.” He went on to say that US veterans fought for freedom and are owed a debt that cannot be repaid. He vowed to hold people like Meleski accountable for their Stolen Valor actions as a small way to honor the service of veterans.
Meleski has yet to be sentenced. According to the DOJ, he faces a maximum of 68 years in prison, a fine of $2.25 million and additional restitution of $302,121.21. It has not been confirmed how Meleski’s voluntary guilty plea will affect the sentence.
Prosecutors allege that Meleski fraudulently obtained $299,849.31 in health care and $2,271.90 in prescription medicines.
According to the VA website, health care fraud costs the US $68 billion every year based on conservative estimates. The FBI estimates that the figure is closer to $300 billion annually.
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The Justice Department recovered over $2 billion in settlements and judgments concerning health care fraud in 2019. But the temptation to cheat the system remains high in the US as Americans spend $10,000 per year on health care.