A 41-year-old Baltimore County veteran is charged with pretending to be a paraplegic for 16 years to collect more than $1 million in disability benefits.
William Rich purposely misled the Department of Veterans Affairs about the extent of an injury he suffered while serving in the Army in Baqubah, Iraq, on Aug. 23, 2005, and faked needing a wheelchair to obtain full disability benefits and other compensation, according to a federal criminal complaint. Prosecutors alleged Rich also used money intended to buy specialized vehicles to instead buy a BMW sports car.
According to the charges, the VA rated Rich as “100% disabled” because of a “[l]oss of use of both lower extremities” and “paraplegia with loss of use of both legs,” among other reasons. The disability qualified him for additional funds to help pay for a caregiver, as well as an automobile and housing adapted for his disability.
However, prosecutors say an MRI conducted the day after Rich suffered his injury found that while there was a possible spinal cord infarction — a stroke either within the spinal cord or the arteries that supply it — there were “no cord abnormalities” and that symptoms of paralysis had begun to subside.
The indictment claims that a 2006 medical report indicated that Rich was mobile and able to perform most functions, like walking and going to the bathroom.
Then a 2007 exam concluded that Rich’s legs were paralyzed, he needed to use a wheelchair, and had no control of his bladder or bowels. The indictment does not state where the exam took place and claims the examining physician did not have complete access to Rich’s medical files.
Rich was granted permanent disability as a result, prosecutors wrote, allowing him to continue to collect full disability benefits.
The charges do not explain how Rich could have fooled VA doctors or what medical treatment he may have received from the government over the past 16 years. The records show that as recently as February, Rich visited a VA medical facility in Bowie, which reported, “[p]araplegic, bilateral lower extremity pain” that has “[s]tayed the same over time,” according to the charges.
Rich is charged with theft of government property and wire fraud. He is free while awaiting trial. His attorney did not respond to requests for comment.
Sometime in 2018, the VA’s Office of the Inspector General opened an investigation into Rich as part of an audit of certain claims, according to prosecutors. The indictment does not state why the audit began.
During that time, investigators followed Rich to his medical appointments, monitored his social media and gathered surveillance footage, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors allege that was seen unloading his wheelchair out of the back of his vehicle when he went to appointments at VA medical offices and that photos of him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter show him standing and without a wheelchair. Prosecutors allege that images from Rich’s Facebook show him upright as early as 2012, despite the fact that he used a wheelchair at VA-related medical appointments through 2021.
Additionally, prosecutors allege that Rich used the funds to purchase an adapted vehicle to buy a 2004 BMW 645ci. The sports car has a V-8 engine and a base price of over $69,000, according to autotrader.com. The car was not readily adaptable to be outfitted with hand controls necessary for paraplegic drivers, prosecutors said.
They also allege Rich totaled the car in a collision and proceeded to buy two more vehicles — a 2016 Chevrolet Suburban and a 2009 BMW 750 — that also appear as though they weren’t adapted for hand controls.
If convicted, Rich could face up to 30 years in federal prison.