The Independent via court records
- Sarah Jane Cavanaugh of Rhode Island has been sentenced to nearly six years in prison.
- Cavanaugh pleaded guilty in August to wire fraud and other charges related to forging documents.
- Prosecutors allege she used her position working with veterans to falsify her own documents and medical history.
A Rhode Island woman has been sentenced to just under six years in prison for posing as a veteran who was injured in combat, then collecting hundreds of thousands in benefits and charitable donations.
Sarah Jane Cavanaugh, 32, was sentenced Tuesday to 70 months in prison, along with three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay over $280,000 in restitution to those she defrauded, the Justice Department announced.
Cavanaugh pleaded guilty in August to wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, forging a military discharge certificate, and fraudulent use of military medals.
“Sarah Cavanaugh’s conduct in the course of her scheme is nothing short of appalling,” US attorney Zachary Cunha said. “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.”
Cavanaugh appeared at events in full Marine uniform, and used fraudulent medals and documents to build relationships with charities and acquire hundreds of thousands in donations.
She used the money for travel, tuition for an art program, home repairs, a gym membership, and her mortgage. Court records show that the Wounded Warrior Project was in contact with Cavanaugh from 2017 through 2021, and provided her with over $207,000 in benefits, including $500 per month for groceries and physical therapy.
Prosecutors alleged that Cavanaugh used her position as a social worker at a Veterans Affairs medical center in Rhode Island to access the military records of real veterans. She used them to claim military service, injuries, and illnesses, and to steal the awards of other veterans as her own — even though she never served in the military.
Records forged by Cavanaugh claimed that she was in the US Marine Corps from 2009 to 2016, rising to the rank of corporal, and earning a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star before being discharged in December 2016, according to court documents.
Prosecutors said Cavanaugh used her official work “va.gov” email address in September 2021 to contact a San Diego-based company to buy the military medals.
In January 2022, Cavanaugh allegedly contacted a nonprofit for assistance in paying for cancer treatments, claiming she had been diagnosed with lung cancer after being exposed to burn pits while serving abroad. Someone involved with the nonprofit contacted a Rhode Island veterans medical center, which searched veterans databases, but was unable to find any records of Cavanaugh, court records show.