PROVIDENCE – The state Senate on Wednesday passed a bill allowing prosecution of those who falsely represent themselves as a member of the military or a veteran. The approval comes two months after a Warwick woman was charged with posing as a wounded Marine Corps veteran to scam people out of donations.
The so-called “stolen valor” bill, sponsored by Sen. Roger A. Picard, D-Woonsocket, would make it a crime to fraudulently represent oneself as an active or veteran member of the military or armed forces for the purpose of obtaining money, property or other tangible benefits.
The crime would be punishable by a year in prison and or a fine of up to $1,000.
“Our nation’s service members and veterans have earned the respect of the public and we owe them our gratitude for all the sacrifices they’ve made on our behalf,” Picard said. “Those who have never served but who try to cash in on that respect are doing a disservice to veterans and service members, and should be held accountable.”
The House approved a similar bill on May 6 sponsored by Rep. Samuel A. Azzinaro, D-Westerly.
Sarah Jane Cavanaugh, 31, worked at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Providence. Posing as a combat veteran, she collected $207,000 from the Wounded Warrior program to pay for groceries and physical therapy, collected about $18,500 in financial assistance from “Code of Support” in Virginia for mortgage payments, repairs to her home furnace, a gym membership and other bills, and $4,700 from a fundraising website, according to Rhode Island U.S. Attorney Zachary Cunha.
Claiming to be a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient, Cavanaugh collected $16,000 from another charity that provides therapy for veterans through art programs, CreatiVets, according to court documents.
Cavanaugh was charged in U.S. District Court in Providence on March 15 with using forged or counterfeited military discharge certificates, wire fraud, fraudulently holding herself out to be a medal recipient with intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit, and aggravated identity theft. She was released on a $50,000 unsecured bond.
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