Army vet accused of faking paralysis after base attack goes on trial

by Tommy Grant

A trial began this week in the case of an Army veteran from Maryland who is accused of obtaining more than $767,000 in Veterans Affairs disability benefits by falsely claiming he was paraplegic.

William Rich faces five counts of wire fraud and one count of theft of government property, according to court documents. A 2021 indictment alleges that Rich “engaged in a scheme to defraud wherein he feigned paralysis while attending VA medical appointments, and made false statements to the VA that he was confined to a wheelchair” in order to receive disability compensation and other benefits.

According to the indictment, Rich was injured when a bomb detonated inside a dining facility while he was serving in Baqubah, Iraq. The Baltimore Banner reported on Tuesday that the injuries occurred when a concrete wall fell on Rich after the explosion. The Department of Veterans Affairs rated him 100% percent disabled due to the “loss of use of both lower extremities.” But approximately six weeks after his injuries, he began to make substantial progress toward recovery, and was no longer paralyzed, the Justice Department stated in 2021.

The case serves as an example of attempts to hold individuals accountable for alleged abuse of compensation meant to aid veterans with disabilities resulting from a disease or injury incurred or aggravated during their military service.

In 2018, the VA Office of Inspector General conducted an audit of certain claims and learned of conduct by Rich, who served in the Army between 1998 and 2007, that was inconsistent with his purported condition, the Justice Department said. Over the next two years, officials conducted surveillance and observed Rich walking, going up and down stairs, entering and exiting vehicles, lifting, bending and carrying items without visible limitation or assistance of a wheelchair, it added.

The former soldier is also accused of using funds meant to purchase a specially adapted vehicle to instead buy a luxury sports car, the Justice Department noted.

“People who play roles will eventually forget their lines,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Colleen McGuinn said in her opening statement, The Baltimore Banner reported.

But Rich’s attorney reportedly told the jury that the former soldier is not a con man.

“This man is a patriot. This man is a hero,” said Gerald Ruter, Rich’s attorney, according to the Banner. “And I’ll also tell you what he’s not. He’s not an actor. And he’s not guilty,” he added.

Military Times reached out to the attorneys for the prosecution and defense but did not immediately hear back.

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

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