by: Amy Clancy Updated:Seattle —
First they served in the military. Now two local veterans will serve time in prison for masterminding a scheme to steal more than $180,000 from taxpayers and other veterans.
Nick Hall, 47, and Keishjuan Daniels, 33, were sentenced in U.S. District Court in Seattle on Tuesday for recruiting veterans to lie about where they lived in order to pad travel reimbursements. The reimbursement checks were then split with Hall and Daniels.
Both worked in the Veterans Health Administration on Beacon Hill, processing veterans' travel benefit claims.
"The two insiders were not only abusing their position of trust and recruiting other veterans to violate the law," U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said upon sentencing today, "they were coaching them along the way with such things as text messages."
Hall was sentenced to 42 months in prison, Daniels to 37 months. Both were ordered to pay restitution in excess of $188,000.
Dave Martin of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said the money gained in the scheme should have been spent on men and women returning from Iraq, Afghanistan and other veterans. "When they spend money in the travel reimbursement section, they can't spend it someplace else that would provide other goods and services or medical care to our veterans," Martin said Tuesday.
The veterans who padded their vouchers were also charged and sentenced to shorter jail terms. But Hall's family told KIRO 7 supervisors who committed fraud were not disciplined. His mother-in-law, Judy Williamson, believes Hall is a scapegoat. "He was in the wrong place at the wrong time," she told KIRO 7 Reporter Amy Clancy. "He's basically a scapegoat for the VA's broken system."
The U.S. Attorney's Office said there's no evidence anyone in addition to those already arrested and charged was involved.
When asked how he felt about keeping so much money from being spent on other veterans, Daniels only said, "Good luck to them. God bless America."
Since Hall and Daniels were arrested in June of 2012, the average monthly cost of travel vouchers processed at the VA in Seattle has been cut in half.
THE VA, OFFICE OF THE INSPECTOR GENERAL, HAS ESTABLISHED A HOTLINE FOR ANYONE TO ANONYMOUSLY REPORT FRAUD, WASTE AND ABUSE AT 1-800-488-8244 OR VAOIGHOTLINE@VA.GOV