PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Senate unanimously passed a bill Thursday that would criminalize the act of “stolen valor.”
This comes one week after the R.I. House passed similar legislation, which would make “stolen valor” a misdemeanor crime punishable by no more than one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
The House bill was introduced last month by Rep. Samuel Azzinaro, who serves as the chairman of the of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. He also served in the National Guard for four years and was a member of the U.S. Army Reserve for four years.
He previously told 12 News this bill was inspired by the ongoing investigation into Sarah Cavanaugh.
“The sacrifices that our military members make in order to ensure our freedom and safety should never be taken lightly and any individual who pretends through fraud to be one of these brave and selfless heroes should be held accountable for their gross deception,” Azzinaro said.
The Senate’s version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Roger Picard, passed 37-0 Thursday afternoon.
“Our nation’s service members and veterans have earned the respect of the public and we owe them our gratitude for all the sacrifices they’ve made on our behalf,” Picard said. “Those who have never served but who try to cash in on that respect are doing a disservice to veterans and service members, and should be held accountable.”
Cavanaugh, who was arrested in March, is accused of profiting off of a fake Bronze Star and Purple Heart, which she claimed to have earned while serving in the military.
The 31-year-old is also accused of bilking nonprofit organizations out of thousands of dollars meant for war heroes. She is facing numerous federal charges including wire fraud, faking military awards and service and aggravated identity theft.
Cavanaugh has claimed for years that she served in the United States Marine Corps and received some of the military’s highest honors, according to prosecutors. She has also told several nonprofit organizations that she got cancer from exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, where she inhaled “particulate matter in the aftermath of an improvised explosive device (IED) attack.”
But federal investigators later learned Cavanaugh not only didn’t earn these accolades, she had also never served in the United States Marine Corps at all.
Instead, prosecutors believe she forged military documents and used her position as a social worker at the Providence VA to access patients’ medical records and attempt to pass them off as her own.
Cavanaugh has been placed on leave from her job at the Providence VA pending the outcome of the investigation, and she has also resigned from her role as the commander of VFW Post 152.
The bill now heads back to the R.I. House for consideration. If approved, it will then head to Gov. Dan McKee’s desk for his signature.