Vet's Purple Heart con cost US $752 000

2016-08-26 06:57


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Tacoma — Federal prosecutors now say a former soldier who lied his way to a Purple Heart by faking injuries from the Iraq war cheated Washington state and the federal government out of more than $750 000 — about three times what investigators cited when they first charged him with fraud in 2014.

Darryl Wright, a former Idaho National Guardsman, was due to be sentenced in US District Court in Tacoma on Thursday. Prosecutors are seeking a five-year prison term, arguing that Wright falsified statements from fellow soldiers to obtain two awards — a Combat Action Badge and the Purple Heart, reserved for those wounded in action — and then parlayed those medals into a wide range of disability and other benefits, including forgiveness of more than $40 000 in student loans.

In applications for benefits Wright claimed to be so severely disabled that he could only focus on anything for five to 10 seconds, and he said he needed a live-in caregiver; in reality, he served as the chairperson of the planning commission in Snoqualmie, the city east of Seattle where he lived; coached high school basketball; and had held a full-time federal government job in Seattle.

"Darryl Lee Wright built an entire myth system on these two awards, relying on them to obtain every possible benefit that might be available to a wounded veteran," assistant US attorneys David Reese Jennings and Gregory Gruber wrote in a sentencing memo. "Every time he won or qualified for a benefit, Darryl Lee Wright used the new benefit to bolster his claims for yet another undeserved benefit."

In addition, they argued that he obstructed justice when he accused a co-worker in the US Commerce Department of violating his privacy after she discovered and reported that he submitted fabricated National Guard orders in an effort to be paid for a week of skipped work.


The Commerce Department repeatedly tried to punish the whistleblower, Cristina Jackson, who wound up having to hire an employment lawyer to fight off the discipline. The department still has not publicly acknowledged her role in helping uncover Wright's fraud, though said her actions were "critical to uncovering the truth".

Wright pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud early this year. Wright's attorney, Christopher Black, filed his sentencing recommendation under seal, saying it contained sensitive personal information.

But other filings show that Wright continues to claim that he suffers from PTSD from his deployment — even if he did exaggerate the circumstances of a rocket attack in which he claimed to have been injured. Black said he is seeking a sentence of one year.

The Veterans Administration has rescinded its earlier determination that Wright should receive benefits for PTSD.

The rocket attack cited by Wright occurred in Kirkuk, Iraq, on August 30, 2005. Then a first lieutenant with the Idaho National Guard, he was near a battalion headquarters building when two rockets landed about 100m away. Initial reports filed by him and by others in his unit referenced no casualties.

"As far as anyone on our team getting hurt, no, that didn't happen," then-Captain Mark Moeckli said.

But in 2010, Wright successfully applied for a Purple Heart. In his paperwork, he claimed he "was violently thrown and knocked unconscious from the percussion of the rockets' impact".

Wright also claimed Social Security disability benefits, insisting he was frequently bedridden. The VA paid his sister to be his live-in caregiver, though investigators said she performed no such service. By May 2013, the siblings were bringing in benefits totalling $10 000 per month, prosecutors said. They said even Wright's mother was in on the fraud, submitting supporting paperwork as a nurse without disclosing her relationship to the veteran.

"Darryl Wright has engaged in a long-lasting, persistent, epic offense," the prosecutors wrote. "He sullied the reputations of people, institutions, and agencies. Worst of all, he hurt the heroes who fully deserve recognition, respect, and honour."

Wright's Purple Heart has not been rescinded, prosecutors said.

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