‘Nothing Short Of Appalling’: VA Employee Posed As Cancer-Stricken Marine For Charity Money, US Attorney Says

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A Rhode Island woman has been sentenced to six years in federal prison after pretending to be a cancer-stricken Marine in order to obtain charitable donations, according to a March 14 press release from United States Attorney Zachary A. Cunha.

Over a period of five years, 32-year-old Sarah Jane Cavanaugh defrauded countless individuals and organizations in a “methodical and calculated manner” by posing as a Purple Heart and Bronze Star-decorated Marine suffering from not only an IED wound but also service-related cancer, the press release reads.

Cavanaugh, who never served in the armed forces, worked as a civilian for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) at the Rhode Island Veterans Affairs Medical Center, according to the attorney. Cavanaugh told a federal judge that she took advantage of her position at the medical center by stealing information, diagnoses and stories of valor from actual service members and attributing them to herself in order to obtain more than $250,000 in charitable donations, the press release reads.

“Sarah Cavanaugh’s conduct in the course of her scheme is nothing short of appalling,” Cunha said in the statement.

“By brazenly laying claim to the honor, service, and sacrifice of real veterans, this defendant preyed on the charity and decency of others for her own shameless financial gain. I am grateful that, with today’s sentence, she has been brought to justice and will face the consequences of her actions,” he continued. (RELATED: Fake Veterans Allegedly Create Fake Charity, Raise $125,000 And Keep It All  For Themselves)

Apart from pretending to be a cancer-stricken Marine, Cavanaugh further exploited the military community by assuming leadership roles in veterans organizations, including that of commander at a Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post in Rhode Island, according to the press release. Cavanaugh also allegedly appeared in public and gave speeches donning a Marine uniform with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star that she reportedly purchased online. Cavanaugh also took advantage of her purported “wounded warrior” status by entering into college programs designed to help actual servicemen and women who were injured in the line of duty, the press release stated.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge John J. McConnell Jr. sentenced Cavanaugh to 70 months in federal prison followed by 3 years of federal supervised release. Cavanaugh was also ordered to pay $284,796.82 in restitution to every victims of her fraud scheme, according to the press release.