PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to sentence an East Greenwich woman to nearly six years in prison for defrauding veterans, charities, friends and organizations by falsely claiming to be a wounded Marine veteran.
In a sentencing memorandum filed Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald Gendron said Sarah Cavanaugh’s acts were “reprehensible and caused financial and severe emotional damage to many innocent people and organizations.” He asked U.S. District Chief Judge John McConnell to sentence Cavanaugh to five years and ten months in prison and to pay roughly $250,000 in restitution.
“Normally, when Americans see a picture of a member of our armed forces in uniform … some of the proverbial thousand words that come to mind are ‘honor,’ ‘loyalty,’ ‘sacrifice,” Gendron wrote. “Knowing what we now know about Sarah Cavanaugh, however, when we look at her image, masquerading as a decorated United States Marine, some very different words come to mind: ‘lies,’ ‘betrayal,’ ‘selfishness,’ ‘greed’… ‘a true fraud.’”
In August, Cavanaugh, 32, pleaded guilty to four counts of wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, forged military discharge certificates and fraudulent use of military medals. She is scheduled to be sentenced on Tuesday. The defense has not yet filed its argument for a lighter sentence.
An investigation revealed Cavanaugh falsely claimed to be a cancer-stricken Marine Corps Veteran and used “that status to obtain money, goods, services, and paid leave from various individuals, charities, and employee benefit programs.”
“At the time she did so, she was neither ill nor a veteran – Cavanaugh has never served in the U.S. military in any capacity,” Gendron wrote.
The memo also revealed that Cavanaugh – who claimed to have been injured in an IED explosion and developed cancer from burn pits in Afghanistan – used a fake purple heart to get into a therapeutic art program for vets run by the University of South Carolina.
In a letter to the judge – quoted in the memo – one of Cavanaugh’s unnamed victims said she took “a spot from another veteran,” who later committed suicide.
The person wrote that after the veteran, who was a double amputee, was denied entry into the program (and Cavanaugh was accepted), his “life took a downward spiral.”
“Cavanaugh’s crimes are among the more reprehensible seen in this district from a fraud defendant and the nature and circumstances of her offenses support a stern sentence,” wrote Gendron.
Prosecutors said she used her position as a licensed social worker at the Providence VA to gain access to the personal records of a Marine and a Navy veteran who actually had cancer. She then used that information to create fake documents and medical records in her own name, according to court documents.
Prosecutors said Cavanaugh not only stole the actual veteran’s medical information and claimed it as her own to receive benefits, she swindled him out of more than $5,000, claiming she was struggling financially.
“Not only did Defendant steal an actual cancer patient’s medical information and appropriate it for her own fraudulent use, but she then duped that same cancer patient into paying her monthly cash payments for her fictitious cancer treatments,” Gendron wrote. “It is difficult to fathom Defendant’s callousness and lack of empathy in this scenario and, quite simply, it shocks the conscience.”
Cavanaugh’s crimes prompted the swift introduction and passage of a stolen valor bill that makes the act punishable at the state level in addition to the federal level. Gov. Dan McKee signed the legislation into law back in June.
Tim White (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter at 12 News, and the host of Newsmakers. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.