Sarah Jane Cavanaugh, a Rhode Island woman who posed claimed to be a wounded marine veteran suffering from cancer, was sentenced to nearly six years in prison on Tuesday, March 15, 2023.
Last year, authorities charged Cavanaugh, 32, with wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, forgery, and fraudulent use of medals for leveraging her position as a social worker at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center to obtain false records to solidify her claims to be a Marine Corps veteran and collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in charitable donations.
As per the Boston Globe, Sarah Jane Cavanaugh, who began working at the VA in 2015, used VA emails to obtain war medals after claiming that she suffered a traumatic brain injury during combat from an improvised explosive device during her time in Afghanistan.
In a press release, prosecutors said that Cavanaugh “misappropriated veterans’ identities, their combat experiences, their diagnoses of illnesses, and their valor,” to support her fraudulent claims and swindled more than $250,000 in cash, charitable donations, and services reserved for injured veterans.
Sarah Jane Cavanaugh ordered to pay restitution to all her victims
On Tuesday, Providence, Chief U.S. District Judge John J. McConnell Jr. sentenced Sarah Jane Cavanaugh to five years and ten months in prison and ordered her to pay $284,796.82 in restitution to all her victims for fabricating documents that showed she was a decorated veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.
As per the Boston Globe, the multiple lies claiming to be a decorated veteran paved the way to serve as the commander of a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in North Kingstown, where she was able to secure more than $250,000 in charity support. The money was reportedly used to pay for expensive clothes and holidays.
During her time at the war post in Kingstown, Cavanaugh reportedly befriended a military veteran, Justin Hsu, with stage 4 lung cancer, who gave her $5000 to cover medical bills after she claimed that her years of exposure to burn pits while serving overseas had triggered her cancer.
In a press release, U.S. Attorney Cunha expressed outrage and devastation at Cavanaugh capitalizing on the veterans' tragedies.
“Sarah Cavanaugh’s conduct in the course of her scheme is nothing short of appalling. By brazenly laying claim to the honor, service, and sacrifice of real veterans, this defendant preyed on the charity and decency of others for her own shameless financial gain. I am grateful that, with today’s sentence, she has been brought to justice and will face the consequences of her actions.”
During the sentencing, Cavanaugh's defense team, who agreed on the indefensible aspects of the crime, alleged that she was a victim of childhood trauma. However, the judge told the court that the deviousness of the crimes did not compute the trauma she suffered as a child.
The Boston Globe reported that at the sentencing Sarah Jane Cavanaugh asked the judge to provide her with an opportunity to rebuild her life so she could rectify her mistakes.