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Man pleads guilty to stealing widow’s VA benefits for 10 years after her death

Justice scale and flag. (St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office/WikiCommons)
September 07, 2018

On Wednesday, an Oceanside, Calif. man pleaded guilty to ripping off more than $145,000 from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs by taking the checks of a military widow for 10 years after she died.

Michael Vanden Brink, 57, had a joint bank account with the widow, identified in court papers as H.C.C., who started getting Dependency and Indemnity Compensation benefits from the VA in 1972, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

The woman died in June 2004, which is when her benefits should have ended, according to prosecutors.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Brehm and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Hill said that Brink continued to receive and spend the checks from July 2004 until February 2014.

The checks were directly deposited in the joint bank account, however, the nature of the relationship between the widow and Brink is not known.

Prosecutors said that Brink waived an indictment, was arraigned and pleaded guilty to a charge of theft of public property in U.S. District Court.

In court, Brink admitted that he was aware that the benefits should have ceased when the woman died and that he was not entitled to them.

He also admitted that he alone had access and control of all funds in the joint bank account. He admitted to using $145,035 in benefits that were not his to use, and that the money rightfully belonged to the U.S. government, Fox 5 News reported.

“For almost a decade, this defendant stole thousands of dollars intended to help the families of our brave men and women in uniform. This prosecution demonstrates the commitment of the United States Attorney’s Office to protecting the integrity of programs for our veterans and their families,” San Diego-area U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman said.

In his plea agreement, Brink agreed to pay full restitution to the VA.

Brink faces a maximum punishment of 10 years in federal prison along with a fine of $390,060. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Dec. 10.

Investigators with the VA’s Office of Inspector General uncovered this fraud.