WASHINGTON (CN) – A retired Navy commander convicted of defrauding the compensation fund for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack cannot have a new trial, a federal judge ruled.
Prosecutors said Charles Coughlin filed a bogus claim with the Victim Compensation Fund, claiming that his back and neck were injured during the attack on the Pentagon, and that he could no longer participate in athletic activities, such as running marathons or playing lacrosse and basketball.
But the government claims that Coughlin, whom the fund awarded $330,000, completed the 2001 New York City Marathon in under four hours, just two months after Sept. 11.
A Washington jury acquitted Coughlin in 2009 on three counts of mail fraud, but they could not reach a verdict on two other mail fraud counts, the count of filing a false, fictitious and fraudulent claim and the count of theft of government property. Coughlin claimed that a second trial would violate double jeopardy, but an appeals court let the trial move forward.
Though those proceedings ultimately ended in a mistrial, a third jury found Coughlin guilty of making a false claim and theft of government property. He filed a motion for a new trial and a motion for acquittal.
Chief U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth denied Coughlin’s motions for a new trial and for acquittal, stating that the trial court properly allowed prosecutors to admit Coughlin’s medical and athletic activities as evidence in the case.
“The medical and athletic activities evidence that the government offered at trial, including evidence regarding whether the defendant exaggerated the severity of his 9/11 injury in order to inflate his post-May 2004 economic damages claim, was relevant to prove that defendant filed a false VCF claim and stole government money when he sought compensation for economic damages that he did not incur and had no reason to believe he would incur in the future,” Lamberth wrote.
Coughlin was working at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 when terrorists crashed a hijacked plane into the building just 75 feet from his desk. He claimed that the crash caused the ceiling over him to collapse and showered him with flying debris, and that he struck his head while rescuing people. The fund paid out his permanent injury claim a few years later to the tune of $331,034.