“THERE ARE CONSEQUENCES IN LIFE”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Apr. 25, 2019) — On April 17, the former power of attorney (POA) of a former U.S. Army soldier from whose bank account tens of thousands of dollars were stolen between November 2016 and early January 2017 testified by telephone during a plea agreement for the perpetrator.
In 2013, the soldier, who was medically-discharged more than two years ago, was sexually assaulted by four military contractors, after which he was thrown into moving traffic and suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI). He underwent several years of treatment, both at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) and at facilities in Texas and Florida, respectively, to aid in his recovery.
More recently he had been stationed on non-duty status while undergoing additional treatment at Walter Reed.
On September 29, 2016 the soldier was unexpectedly ordered to report to the Emergency Room at Walter Reed. Although having undergone an ordered examination and been cleared as fit to return to his apartment four weeks earlier by an emergency-room physician, on the latter date he was placed in the hospital’s psychiatric wing without his computer or cell phone, the POA reported.
The POA was led to believe that the soldier had experienced some type of episode leading to his hospitalization, she told us, but when she flew to Washington the following day to see the situation for herself, she “saw something entirely different.”
Her attempts to secure his release were unsuccessful until late December 2016, when a Walter Reed commander contacted her by phone to inform her that the soldier would be relocated to a Veterans Administration (VA) hospital in his home state followed by an official discharge.
A month before his discharge, the POA contacted the White House to request a presidential investigation into the soldier’s treatment and confinement at Walter Reed, to which she never received a response. She had also requested assistance from the office of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who has been an outspoken advocate on behalf of victims of military sexual assault and harassment. While Gillibrand initiated a congressional investigation with the Army, to the POA’s knowledge, the Army never properly responded.
The POA’s request for a Walter Reed Inspector General investigation was similarly disregarded, the POA reported at the time.
During his time in the ward, the POA became aware that large amounts of cash had disappeared, on different dates, from the soldier’s account at Navy Federal Credit Union (NFCU) without authorization. She promptly notified authorities and an investigation was launched.
Also during his hospitalization, the POA learned that Walter Reed contacted the Montgomery County, MD Office of Adult Protective Services to purportedly to assist in developing a “safe and appropriate discharge plan” for the soldier with possible “guardianship” without her knowledge or consent.
Shortly after contacting The Post & Email for the first time in June 2016, the POA reported that her email account, work-associated laptop computer, and her children’s bank accounts were breached. She began receiving “strange phone calls from unrecognizable numbers,” she told us, and observed on repeated occasions SUVs with “darkly-tinted windows” parked outside of her home, including as recently as December.
In 2015, a loan taken on the soldier’s alleged signature which the POA said he could not have signed for given his level of disability at the time was denied as “fraud” by an NFCU “senior investigator.” A letter of inquiry directed to the individual from this publication received no response.
Prosecutors did not respond to this writer’s requests for comment or updates during the course of the investigation of the more recent account breaches and stolen money.
Earlier this year, the prosecution informed the former POA that she would likely have to fly to Washington, DC to testify during the accused’s trial. Surprisingly, that plan never materialized, the informed us on Friday.
Other than the multiple thefts of the soldier’s savings, the POA told us on Friday as well as in previous interviews, the worst aspect of the entire experience was that a person placed in a position of trust by Walter Reed not only ultimately accepted a plea deal for the crime, but had also attempted to convince the soldier, who was in a highly vulnerable position while confined to the psychiatric ward, that the POA had taken the money and used it for her own purposes.
Describing the events of April 17, the former POA said:
The evidence was so strong against him, and along with your stories, we had documented everything. I also kept meticulous records and ended up doing the prosecutor’s job for them. They were reading your stories to get the background. From there, they were asking for records for certain things, and I knew they had to have read the stories to ask for those things.
A trial was scheduled for March 22, but the evidence I had in the form of recordings contained one of the perpetrator asking for the soldier’s computer when he was in the psych ward. He left the request in a voice mail, and I saved all the voice mails he left me. I am in a state which does not require permission from the other party to record, so I turned all of those voice messages over to the prosecution.
At first he wanted to go to trial. The prosecution notified him it was fine to go to trial but that they were requesting a 30-year sentence if he were found guilty. Around March 19th, I kept emailing them to find out if I needed to attend the trial. I never heard back until a week later, when the accused had already signed a plea deal.
The sentencing was April 17. I requested to ask the judge if I could conference in by phone. It took over a week for her to tell me that she would allow it. Another family member did not want to attend, nor did the soldier based on the relationship he had had with the accused.
Once the judge agreed to it, no one had to physically go there. The other family member and I testified over the phone. I had to answer questions about how I found out the money was stolen. I had to be available from 9:00 a.m. to whenever they called me, which was at 4:30. I was sworn in, just like in court, except it was over the phone, but no one else is permitted to hear it, so you have to be in an area where no one is around.
The day before, the prosecutor told me that the defense was going to ask me some questions, which he did. He asked questions about the nature of my relationship with the soldier, how often we see each other, how the soldier is doing.
All day, I was told, “They’re going back and forth.” Finally at 1:00 the paralegal called saying the judge was researching a statute. Then at 2:00, they were waiting on the judge, and they said, “We’re going to call you in.” Then they were on a lunch break and told me I had to stay put.
Finally, once they called me, I was on the phone for 30 minutes. The prosecution asked me background information on myself: what I do for a living and where I live. Everything they would ask me, the defense would object. When he got to specific things, the defense asked, “How did you first learn about the money being missing?” and everything was an objection. I think that was so as not to have things on the record. So the prosecutor said, “She’s the one who caught the fraud.”
I was asked by the prosecutor, “How do you feel about the military? How were you treated at Walter Reed?” And the defense said, “Objection, objection.” It was back-and-forth and back-and-forth, but the judge overruled the objections.
I answered those questions, and they asked me, “What are some things that happened to the soldier at Walter Reed?” and the defense said, “That’s hearsay.” Even with the fraud, when they asked, “How did you find out?” I said, “Navy Federal called me.”
I was able to give a quick synopsis. I said that I googled the bank; I had never been there in person, and that’s when I noticed that $16,000 was gone. I noticed that all of the transaction numbers went to a default number. The defense attorney tried to turn it all around. “Well, we have you going to the bank and withdrawing $16,000.” Yes, I withdrew what was left, but the prosecution has a copy of the bank statement where I went and opened a new account in a totally different bank and deposited the money. Had I not done that, he would have been flat-broke; he wouldn’t have had anything.
At that point, it was ironclad; he cannot convince anybody that I had anything to do with the disappearance of the money. So then, the defense asked some questions , including, “Do you remember I talked to you yesterday?” and I said, “Yes, you did.” “Did you tell me that your (relative) lives with the soldier in XXXX?” and I said, “Sir, you just told me that’s hearsay, so you are going to have to ask him/her.” “Does he still get benefits from the VA?” “Sir, that would be hearsay if I answered that; I’m no longer his POA, and I don’t know. You’re going to have to ask him.” The prosecution didn’t object one time; the judge never said anything, and I could tell that the defense was steaming. “Is the soldier going to go back to school?” “I don’t know; you can ask him.”
That’s what he kept saying when the prosecution was asking me questions. When the subject of medical records came up, the defense said, “How do you know about the soldier’s medical records?” He tried to say it was “hearsay.” When I asked Walter Reed for 14 years of medical records, I was his POA, so I was acting as him.
He fought very hard because he did not want me to make a victim’s impact statement. He said, “No, your honor, that’s not right, because we could call people out of the woodwork who could say they were victims: his aunts, his uncles, anybody related to him.” But the prosecution said, “No, we’re not talking about a laundry list; we’re talking about the people who were directly impacted,” which were the soldier and me, acting as him. I said it had a profound, emotional impact on my life such that I had sleepless nights, migraines…you think someone is going to set you up to go to prison for something you didn’t do.
I said that I think the most damaging thing is that the soldier and I do not have a relationship anymore. I don’t feel they trust me; there’s always that feeling that I wasn’t responsible enough to have caught this before it got so far. It hurt my character; It broke trust, it broke bonds; it caused my parents to pick and choose sides.
He couldn’t say anything at that point. Because the accused took a plea deal, he was sentenced to three years in prison, of which he’ll likely have to serve about half. His rank was reduced to “Private” and he will receive a dishonorable discharge. That’s all the information they gave me, but I was promised a copy of the transcript in the mail.
The former POA has lingering questions, she told us, including whether or not the convicted person will be required to return the money he stole and if there is an evidence trail as to what he did with it. She also wonders whether or not the perpetrator was encouraged or pressured to steal the money from others with the power to intimidate.
Regarding whether or not “justice” was served, the former POA told us, “Even though it’s not a whole lot of prison time, he’s young, and to have a dishonorable discharge on your record, he’s going to have a hard time finding a job. I wasn’t advocating throwing the book at him, but I feel very offended because he did not care about me or my kids. If you remember, he tried to get Adult Protective Services involved. And I was thinking, ‘I’ve done nothing.’ He tried to ruin my life. There are consequences in life.”
The Post & Email is aware of the identity of the admitted perpetrator but will reserve publishing it until a transcript is received from the military court. However, we can now amplify on a report we published December 20, 2018 revealing that someone from the Executive Office of the President (EOP) accessed one of our articles.
That article is titled, “What Will Navy Federal Do About a $52,000 Heist?”
As of December 9, 2018, the POA was unsure if an investigation had taken place despite her having provided evidence to Army investigators. In an interview that week, the POA said, “What the perpetrator did is on a low level, but I think there’s somebody higher that this was done for. I think it’s dragging because a lot of people higher up could get in trouble. After almost two years, they can’t tell me they can’t trace it down to who moved almost $100,000? Does someone in the military get away with this? What is the problem?”
Sharon Rondeau has operated The Post & Email since April 2010, focusing on the Obama birth certificate investigation and other government corruption news. She has reported prolifically on constitutional violations within Tennessee’s prison and judicial systems.