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Betraying a Veteran's Trust

Persons are frequently appointed or designated by courts and agencies to serve as a fiduciary in handling the affairs, including receiving monies, on behalf of incompetent and disabled veterans. Many of these individuals perform their fiduciary duties in a responsible and lawful way. Others do not, choosing instead to misappropriate these funds for their own personal gain. Veterans whose affairs are being managed by others because of their disabilities are particularly susceptible to abuse by their trusted guardians. Three recent cases remind us that veterans continue to be victimized by person entrusted with their care and supervision.

Last year, a Tennessee attorney, Jack Perry, and Robert Tabbutt, a former U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Field Examiner, pled guilty in Tennessee federal court to conspiring to divert $896,239.43 over a 9 year period from beneficiary accounts of 10 disabled veterans. Perry was the appointed fiduciary over the affairs of these veterans and Tabbutt was the DVA employee who oversaw the fiduciary program. These two "fiduciaries" had diverted the money to their personal accounts and then gambled the money away at Mississippi casinos. They were each sentenced to 3 years in federal court.

In Houston, Texas, a local attorney, Joe Phillips, and his wife, Dorothy, who worked in his law office, were indicted for conspiring to misappropriate more than $2 million from the accounts of military veterans. Phillips had previously worked for the DVA, and ran a small Houston law practice. He served as the legal guardian and fiduciary for a number of incompetent veterans. He was suppose to open and maintain bank accounts to receive VA and SSA benefit payments to pay the ordinary and customary living expenses of the incompetent veterans but instead was accused with his wife of transferring and deposited the money into their personal joint bank accounts for their personal use.

In Alabama, Joy Farmer, a former church employee and administrative assistant in a law firm appointed as a fiduciary for individuals receiving veterans benefits, received a 33 month sentence for bank fraud for embezzling money from veterans' bank accounts. Instead of depositing VA pay into their bank accounts she was diverting the money, unbeknownst to the law firm, into her own accounts. She embezzled over $600,000 by forging the attorney's signature on the checks, writing 327 checks to herself, and depositing the monies into her own account.

Veterans regrettably should never let their guard down when others, even attorneys and church leaders, are appointed to manage their affairs, including the receipt of veterans benefits and pay.