A Pennsylvania man was sentenced to 40 months in prison Wednesday for “a particularly disgraceful fraud scheme” in which he pretended to be a Navy SEAL and former prisoner of war to steal Veterans Administration benefits, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania announced.
Among other charges, Richard Meleski, 60, pleaded guilty in July 2020 to one count of healthcare fraud, two counts of mail fraud, one count of stolen valor and two counts of fraudulent military papers, according to the attorney’s office.
All told, Meleski scored more than $300,000 in VA healthcare benefits due to his fakery, and even jumped the eligibility line ahead of real veterans in need, the attorney’s office said in a release announcing the sentence.
“In reality, Meleski never served one day in the United States military,” the release states.
Meleski at one point filed for post-traumatic stress compensation and falsely represented that he received a Silver Star while serving as a SEAL.
“Meleski also submitted another application to the VA for monetary compensation in which he included obituaries of actual Navy SEALs alongside whom he falsely said he had served,” the attorney’s office said.
“He traded on the actions of these true service members in an attempt to bolster his application for monetary benefits,” the office said.
Meleski also pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the straw purchase of two firearms, as well as for claiming Social Security Administration benefits for injuries he claimed to suffer while in the military, according to the department.
He was also sentenced to three years of supervision following his release and will have to pay back about $302,000 in restitution.
“The fact that Meleski chose to put himself ahead of true war heroes in order to take advantage of benefits designed specifically for those serving in the U.S. military is profoundly offensive,” acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams said in a statement.
His court-appointed attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.