An Army veteran from Maryland faces up to 30 years in federal prison after prosecutors say he falsely claimed to the Department of Veterans Affairs that he is a paraplegic.
The Justice Department said that William Rich, 41, of Windsor Mill, Maryland, was granted 100 percent disability from the VA in 2007 based on falsely claiming paralysis in his “lower extremities,” resulting in more than $1 million in benefits and compensation being paid out.
Rich also received grants from the VA for “automobile and adaptive equipment” and “specially adapted housing.” Rich is accused of using the funds intended to purchase a specially adapted vehicle to buy a BMW 645ci luxury sports coupe.
Rich served in the Army from Sept. 22, 1998, to Feb. 27, 2007, and was injured on Aug. 23, 2005, while serving in Baqubah, Iraq, according to a Justice Department release.
However, according the release, approximately six weeks after Rich’s injuries, he had begun to recover and was no longer paralyzed. Specifically, a report from Rich’s Oct. 7, 2005, annual physical examination stated that an MRI on Aug. 24, 2005, revealed “no [spinal] cord impingement” or “[spinal] cord abnormalities.” Further, it noted that Rich’s “…paralysis has resolved somewhat, and at present, he is able to move his lower extremities.”
A subsequent report from Dec. 5, 2006, indicated Rich was able to perform certain essential daily activities with “complete independence” or “modified independence” such as using the bathroom and “locomotion.”
However, during a VA pension and compensation exam conducted on Oct. 11, 2007, the examining physician stated, “Since his accident, he has been paralyzed in both lower extremities; has been confined to a wheelchair….”
The examining physician also said that he did not have access to Rich’s complete medical records at the time of his VA examination. Additionally, the physician stated he did not review Rich’s medical history, nor did he order an X-ray because he “did not feel that it was worth the trauma to him of manipulating him around.”
In 2018 the VA inspector general learned of conduct by Rich that was inconsistent with his purported paralysis and launched an audit, according to the release. Over the next two years, special agents followed and surveilled Rich and observed him walking, going up and down stairs, entering and exiting vehicles, lifting, bending, and carrying items — all without a wheelchair or “visible limitation.”
Additionally, VA special agents only observed Rich use a wheelchair in only connection with his VA appointments.
According to the release, a further review of Rich’s public social media accounts showed multiple images of Rich standing, with nothing to indicate he was wheelchair-bound. Agents also found videos of Rich lifting weights, along with an image Rich took of himself standing in front of a gym mirror.
Rich was charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of theft of government property. On Oct. 13, he had an initial appearance in United States District Court in Baltimore and was ordered to be released pending trial.
Rich has been assigned a federal public defender to represent him in this case. That office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
If convicted, Rich faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison for wire fraud and a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison for theft of government property.
James R. Webb is a rapid response reporter for Military Times. He served as a US Marine infantryman in Iraq. Additionally, he has worked as a Legislative Assistant in the US Senate and as an embedded photographer in Afghanistan.