BALTIMORE, MD—A Baltimore County U.S. Army veteran has been charged with fraudulently obtaining more than $1 million in government disability benefits.
A federal criminal complaint charges William Rich, 41, of Windsor Mill, for allegedly fraudulently obtaining a total of more than $1 million dollars in disability benefits and Social Security Administration disability benefits by falsely claiming that he was a paraplegic. The criminal complaint filed on October 12, 2021, and was unsealed this week upon Rich’s arrest.
The federal charges were announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek L. Barron; Inspector General Kim R. Lampkins, Special Agent in Charge, Mid Atlantic Field Office, Washington, DC of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA); and Special Agent in Charge Michael McGill of the Social Security Administration – Office of Inspector General, Philadelphia Field Division (SSA).
The criminal complaint alleges that Rich misrepresented his physical condition in VA disability compensation claims, in communications with the VA and during medical examinations in pursuit of VA disability benefits, purporting that he is paralyzed and unable to walk. As a result, Rich has allegedly received more than approximately $800,000 in VA benefits to which he was not entitled, including disability compensation, special monetary and caregiver assistance compensation, as well as medical care and subsidies for medical equipment. In addition, the criminal complaint alleges that Rich received more than $240,000 in Social Security Administration (SSA) Disability Insurance Benefit payments.
According to the criminal complaint, Rich served in the United States Army from on or about September 22, 1998 to February 27, 2007, sustaining injuries on August 23, 2005, while serving in Baqubah, Iraq. As a result of those injuries, in 2007 the VA rated Rich one hundred percent disabled due to the “loss of use of both lower extremities…” The VA disability compensation program provides tax-free monetary benefits paid to veterans with disabilities that are the result of a disease or injury incurred or aggravated during active military service. The amount of disability compensation a veteran receives is commensurate with their service-connected disability rating. Rich was also awarded special monthly compensation for paraplegia and given allowances for a caregiver. Rich also received SSA Disability Insurance Benefit payments.
As detailed in the criminal complaint, approximately six weeks after Rich’s injuries, he had begun to make substantial progress toward recovery, and was no longer paralyzed. In particular, a report from Rich’s annual physical examination dated October 7, 2005 stated that an MRI on August 24, 2005 revealed “no [spinal] cord impingement” or “[spinal] cord abnormalities” and noted that Rich’s “…paralysis has resolved somewhat and at present he is able to move his lower extremities.” A subsequent report, dated December 5, 2006, indicated Rich was able to perform certain essential daily activities with “complete independence” or “modified independence” such as using the bathroom and “locomotion.”
However, according to the affidavit, later records documenting a subsequent exam conducted on October 11, 2007 stated, “Since his accident, he has been paralyzed in both lower extremities; has been confined to a wheelchair….” The examining physician, who noted that he did not have access to Rich’s complete claims file, and so did not review Rich’s medical history or observe the earlier report, also did not order an x-ray, stating he “did not feel that it was worth the trauma to him of manipulating him around.” Based on this examination, Rich was granted permanent disability from VA.
In 2018, the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an audit of certain claims and learned of conduct by Rich inconsistent with his purported condition. VA OIG opened an investigation into possible fraud in Rich’s claim for VA benefits. According to the affidavit, over the next two years, VA OIG Special Agents (SAs) conducted surveillance and observed of Rich walking, going up and down stairs, entering and exiting vehicles, lifting, bending, and carrying items—all without visible limitation or assistance of a medical device, including a wheelchair.
The affidavit further alleges that throughout the course of their surveillance, the only time agents observed Rich use a wheelchair was in connection with VA medical appointments. In particular, on five occasions between March 2019 and February 2021, VA OIG SAs allegedly observed Rich either loading his wheelchair into the trunk of his car before or after a VA medical appointment, using a wheelchair at VA appointments, or wheeling himself from a VA medical appointment to his car, and then loading his wheelchair into the car.
According to the affidavit, a review of Rich’s publicly available social media accounts revealed multiple images of Rich standing, with no indication that he is bound to a wheelchair, as well as an image Rich took of himself standing in front of a mirror at a gym, as well as videos of Rich lifting weights.
In addition to monthly benefits Rich received from the VA, according to the affidavit, Rich also received grants from the VA for “Automobile and Adaptive Equipment,” and “Specially Adapted Housing.” In particular, the affidavit alleges that Rich used the funds intended for the purchase of a specially adapted vehicle to buy a BMW 645ci luxury sports coupe.
If convicted, Rich faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for wire fraud and a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison for theft of government property. On October 13, 2021, Rich had an initial appearance in United States District Court in Baltimore and was ordered to be released pending trial.