A convicted arsonist living in Chalfont is accused of lying about his military service, claiming to have been a prisoner of war in order to receive free health care from the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, according to federal authorities.
Richard Meleski, 58, submitted false forms in 2010 stating he was a Navy SEAL from 1980 until 1986, during which time he was a prisoner of war at one point, leading to him receiving about $300,000 in health care over several years, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In 2018, Meleski also submitted another form to the VA, claiming he had post-traumatic stress disorder from injuries during an incident in 1984, in Beirut, Lebanon, where he claimed he saved three, according to the indictment.
Meleski also reported that he had received a Silver Star award for the rescue, according to authorities.
In one form he provided obituaries of actual Navy SEALs and claimed that he served with them, the release states.
He claimed he was honorably discharged, court documents state.
Federal authorities allege Meleski was never in the military, and that he was living in New Jersey during that time period.
A grand jury indicted Meleski on Tuesday on charges of health care fraud, mail fraud, stolen valor, creating fraudulent military discharge papers and making false statements.
A message left for his federal public defender seeking comment was not returned Tuesday.
On Tuesday, Meleski was detained, according to court records.
Federal prosecutors argued that Meleski should be detained without bail before trial because he is a flight risk.
In a court filing Tuesday, Megan Curran, special assistant U.S. attorney, wrote that Meleski had been convicted of arson in New Jersey four times, and he was released from prison in May 2008.
He waited two years before he began his fraud scheme against the VA’s office, the filing states.
Court records state the arsons were committed by Meleski in 1985, 1986, 1988 and 2003.
Curran noted that many of Meleski’s prior arrest were when he was under court supervision.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard A. Lloret ordered Meleski be detained.
If convicted, Meleski faces a maximum sentence of 68 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $2,250,000 fine and restitution of about $302,121, according to the release.
Lloret wrote in his order that because of the possible maximum sentence, Meleski has substantial incentive to flee. Meleski is being held at the federal detention center in Philadelphia, according to the federal records.
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