Join our brand new verified AMN Telegram channel and get important news uncensored!

Scuba dive shop workers stole millions from the VA in ‘stunning’ fraud, feds say

Department of Veterans Affairs (Ed Schipul/Flickr)

Five workers at two scuba diving shops in Georgia stole millions in education benefits by lying to the Department of Veterans Affairs, feds say.

Kenneth Meers, 54; Robert Lanoue, 63; Judith Lanoue, 59; David Anderegg, 42; and Theresa Whitlock, 55, collectively stole more than $4 million in education benefits from the VA, according to a Sept. 15 news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia. All five entered guilty pleas.

The defendants worked at Scooba Shack in Savannah and Richmond Hill and Diver’s Den in St. Marys, the release says. Neither shop immediately responded to McClatchy News’ request for comment.

Meers’ attorney, Rober Lanoue’s attorney, Judith Lanoue’s attorney and Anderegg’s attorney did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment. Whitlock’s attorney declined to “make generalized comments about our client’s cases.”

Working together in various capacities, the five made false submissions to the VA using scuba classes that targeted military veterans’ education benefits, the release says. The defendants are accused of misstating each business’ compliance with regulations, falsifying dates of students’ attendance, lying about the hours of instruction and creating a fake scholarship program to make it seems as if a required percentage of non-VA students participated in classes.

Under these false pretenses, the two shops billed the VA up to more than $20,000 per veteran student enrolled in classes, according to the release.

“The scope of the fraud uncovered in this investigation is stunning, particularly when you consider the scheme siphoned funds intended for providing legitimate education assistance to former service members,” United States Attorney David Estes said in the release. “We applaud the work of the VA Office of Inspector General in identifying and halting this fraud.”

Between May 2018 and April 2021, Meers worked as a school certifying official and course director at Scooba Shack. He became a consultant at Diver’s Den in May 2020 and later worked as an instructor from June 2021 until February 2022. Meers pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and faces up to 20 years in prison followed by up to three years of supervised release and significant financial penalties, the release says.

Both Robert Lanoue and Judith Lanoue pled guilty to false, fictitious and fraudulent claims. Each faces up to five years in prison followed by up to three years of supervised release and financial penalties. The husband and wife are owners of Scooba Shack. As part of their plea agreement, they will forfeit $270,893.75 from their bank account, which will go toward restitution.

Anderegg, an instructor, school certifying official and store manager at Scooba Shack, also pleaded guilty to false, fictitious and fraudulent claims. The release does not list Anderegg’s potential sentence or financial penalties.

Whitlock pleaded guilty to making false statements in her role operating Diver’s Den and serving as a school certifying official. She faces up to five years in prison and has agreed to forfeit $64,260.30 seized from Diver’s Den’s bank accounts, according to the release.

Richmond Hill is about 20 miles southwest of Savannah, and St. Marys is about 110 miles south of Savannah.


© 2022 The Charlotte Observer

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.