December 10, 2002, 08:00:00 AM
WASHINGTON – On Dec. 4, the last of 12 people convicted in a massive fraud against the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was sentenced in federal court in Atlanta.
Sarah Prater, a former supervisor and claims examiner in VA's Atlanta regional office, was sentenced to 13 years in prison and ordered to pay more than $11 million in restitution for her part in a scheme to pay benefits in the name of deceased veterans.
"We can take some comfort in the fact that no veteran was deprived of his or her rightful benefits as a result of this fraud," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi.
"This case also highlights the work of the men and women of VA's Office of the Inspector General – vital work that is often done without public recognition," Principi added. "The IG uncovered the fraud, led a multi-agency investigation, and helped bring a complex prosecution to a successful close."
The work by VA's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) earned a special "Award for Excellence" in October from the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency.
"This was truly an OIG team effort and I am very proud to be associated with such dedicated, hardworking professionals,” said Inspector General Richard J. Griffin.
The scheme focused on creating fraudulent claims for 100-percent disability that resulted in retroactive lump-sum payments to deceased veterans. That money, totaling about $11 million over eight years, was diverted to Prater's accomplices.
When criminal charges were revealed in August 2001, Principi immediately undertook a number of corrective actions, including procedural and technology-based controls that prevent or quickly identify similar frauds and stronger accountability for VA managers.
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