Air Force Vet Who Stole From VA Pleads Guilty

WASHINGTON (CN) — A former Department of Veterans Affairs official pleaded guilty Tuesday to fraud and bribe charges after he stole more than $66,000 meant for needy veterans.

Russel Ware, 39, is a veteran himself of the U.S. Air Force but worked as a financial administration specialist at the VA’s Appeals Management Center in Washington, D.C., from 2012 to 2015.

One of his duties there included processing special payments that a veteran might request if his usual disability check was sent to the wrong address or otherwise unaccounted for.

Prosecutors alleged in a November 2017 indictment that Ware began wiring himself special payments in 2013, prepared in the name of legitimate VA beneficiaries but using his own banking information.

Ware had pocketed more than $21,000 in such benefits by May 2014, according to the indictment, when he began arranging similar payments for a friend of his from the Air Force.

Between October 2014 and February 2015, Ware directed nearly $46,000 in special payments to Jacqueline Crawford of Gulfport, Mississippi.

Because Crawford kicked back $13,000 to Ware over the course of 16 payments, usually through the use of Walmart2Walmart money transfers, Ware faced four counts of fraud and one count of bribery.

A resident of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, Ware pleaded guilty Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta to the bribery charge and one count of fraud. His attorney, Michael Lawlor, has not responded to an email seeking comment.

Ware was indicted nine months after Crawford pleaded guilty to a single count of theft of government property related to the scheme. She agreed as part of her plea agreement to forfeit $45,917.

Ware’s plea notes that he must forfeit $66,996.26. At his sentencing hearing on May 8, Ware faces up to 20 years in prison plus fines.

Prosecutor Richard Evans did not respond to an email request for comment.

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