A former high-ranking Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs official pleaded guilty to extortion Monday in federal court after falsely claiming about $1.4 million in government benefits over a 16-year period.
David Clark, a 67-year-old Hydes resident, admitted fabricating documents and claims to secure federal benefits and state tax waivers for himself and at least 17 other veterans. He acknowledged making up records in his role as the deputy chief of claims for the state agency, including fake doctors' letters saying that claimants suffered from diabetes and documents listing false tours of Vietnam and awards such as Purple Hearts from 1995 until his retirement in 2011.
"Mr. Clark regretted his actions, and he's here today to demonstrate his remorse," said Steven H. Levin, Clark's attorney, after the hearing.
Clark had the claimants pay him in cash half of the payments they received from the government, according to the plea agreement. His actions cost the federal government $1,151,219 in false claims and the state $255,555 in property tax evasion, according to a court documents. Clark has agreed to forfeit the money he obtained through the scheme, officials said.
In court Monday, Clark complained about his health and used a walker. Levin said his client suffered a stroke last year and has been battling inoperable prostate cancer since before his retirement.
"Mr. Clark does not intend to rely on his debilitating stroke or the fact that he has inoperable cancer to excuse his actions," Levin said. "He sincerely regrets those actions."
Charges against Clark alleging wire fraud were dropped as part of a plea agreement.
Prosecutor Leo Wise declined to comment after the hearing.
U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake scheduled Clark's sentencing hearing for Nov. 17. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Eight other veterans —John Bratcher, 56, of Conowingo and Sandra Tyree, 65, of Baltimore (Air Force); Richard Genco, 71, of Baltimore and Paul Heard, 65, of Baltimore (Navy); George Kulla, 68, of Baltimore (Army); Kenneth Webster, 68, of Pasadena, Raymond Sadler, 63, of Middle River and Kenneth Williams, 65, of Middle River (Marine Corps) — previously pleaded guilty to wire fraud for paying Clark cash to submit falsified documents. They each received three years probation and fines, according to federal court records.
Veterans groups expressed outrage over Clark's actions, especially during a time when the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has come under scrutiny for delays in processing disability claims for service members.
In an email, Alex Nicholson, legislative director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, decried the corruption.
"This Maryland ... employee's criminal behavior would be among the most egregious examples of outright corruption within any [veterans] system, state or federal," he wrote. "This just goes to show that technology updates, including the ability to efficiently cross-check and verify records and claims, are still desperately needed."