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Pennsylvania man gets 1 day in prison for stealing brother’s VA benefits

A role playing "prisoner" at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center to be "rescued" by responding military forces during Vibrant Response, a U.S. Army North exercise. (Sgt. Brad Staggs/Department of Defense)

A New Kensington man will spend one day behind bars for stealing more than $130,000 of his older brother’s veterans benefits to buy himself luxury items — including a diamond ring, GMC Sierra pickup truck and Harley Davidson motorcycle.

Andrew Ziacik, 57, also must pay $75,000 in restitution to his brother and a $4,000 fine to the court, a federal judge ruled Monday at a hearing in Pittsburgh, Acting U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Kaufman said.

When Ziacik was indicted by a federal grand jury on the single charge in October 2020, then-Attorney U.S. Scott Brady said that Ziacik could have faced up to five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000.

Ziacik pleaded guilty in June to a charge of misappropriation of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs beneficiary funds, court records show.

Between 2013 and 2017, Ziacik was the federal-appointed fiduciary for his older brother, who qualifies for VA cash benefits for a military service-related disability, court records show.

Ziacik’ job was to receive the money and ensure all of his brother’s debts were paid.

Instead, Ziacik used his brother’s VA account as a personal slush fund.

During his June 2 plea hearing, the defendant admitted to violating the terms of his fiduciary role by misspending his brother’s VA money over the four-year period for personal benefit, including on the likes of jewelry and vehicles. He transferred about $135,000 of his brother’s benefit money to personal accounts and made at least $25,000 in unauthorized ATM cash withdrawals, according to prosecutors.

Investigators with the VA’s Office of Inspector General flagged the misspending and lack of record-keeping.

Veterans Affairs officials first initiated a formal accounting investigation into the funds that Ziacik controlled on behalf of his brother in August 2016, and Ziacik did not provide the requested records nor receipts.

Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan also ordered Ziacik to spend three years on probation following the one-day prison sentence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric G. Olshan prosecuted the case.

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