Chelsea man pleads guilty to filing false VA mileage claims

By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff
Posted Sept. 12, 2012, at 8:11 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A Chelsea man pleaded guilty to making false, fictitious and fraudulent claims during an appearance Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Bangor.

Stephen John Longstaff, 54, entered his plea after waiving indictment. He was released from jail on $5,000 unsecured bail, according to court officials.

Longstaff, who is being represented by Assistant Federal Defender Virginia Villa, is facing up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, according to documents filed in federal court. He also is subject to up to three years of supervised release after his sentence has been served.

A date for his sentencing has yet to be set.

Federal prosecutors say Longstaff “knowingly and willfully” presented to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs claims for travel benefits from June 15, 2009, through Feb. 27 of this year.

The claims were fraudulent because Longstaff was driving much shorter distances than his claims for mileage reimbursement for trips between the Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta and locations in Washington and Hancock county, court documents indicated.

Longstaff claimed he was driving to Togus from various Down East various locations when in truth he was traveling much shorter distances, thereby stealing benefits in violation of federal law.

Prosecutors say he submitted 156 false claims for VA travel benefits, receiving $17,725.37 in mileage reimbursement — $17,361.83 of which was unwarranted.

On Feb. 15, 2009, Longstaff signed a VA patient data card that certified he was due reimbursement for travel to and from Togus from Charlotte, a small northeastern Washington County town about 358 miles away roundtrip.

A special agent employed by the VA Office of Inspector General, however, became suspicious after seeing Longstaff’s green Subaru Legacy at a Chelsea residence — only three miles away from Togus — and put Longstaff under surveillance.

When Longstaff was questioned by VA investigators on Feb. 29, he repeatedly admitted that “it was wrong to submit false and fraudulent travel claims when he had not driven from the locations claimed on vouchers,” according to court documents.

“The defendant acknowledged that he had never been to Charlotte, Maine, and that he had also used a fictitious East Machias address,” prosecutors noted. They said Longstaff had lived most of his adult life in the Augusta area. Investigators also said that Longstaff’s former wife and daughter, who both did live at the Charlotte address Longstaff provided and now live a short distance away, told them Longstaff had never lived there.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/09/12/news/augusta/chelsea-man-pleads-guilty-to-filing-false-va-mileage-claims/ printed on July 23, 2014