By Debbie Gregory.
A husband and wife were convicted by a federal jury of embezzling federal funds that were intended to provide job training, benefits and equipment for injured Marines returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
From 2007-2009, Judith Paixao and Kevin Lombard were directors of the Wounded Marine Careers Foundation, a tax-exempt entity that trained injured veterans for careers in the film industry.
The San Diego jury found the pair guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud, theft from an organization receiving federal funds, and filing false claims. Paixao was also convicted of mail fraud involving the Bob Woodruff Foundation. Paixao defrauded the Bob Woodruff Foundation of almost $100,000 by hiding the fact that one of the intended recipients, a Marine injured in Fallujah, had left the program, prosecutors said.
The pair fraudulently billed the Department of Veterans Affairs for personal expenses, including cellphone bills for relatives, a Caribbean vacation, meals in fancy restaurants, and a New Year’s Day sailing outing around San Diego Bay.
The VA was charged up to $88,000 per veteran for the 10-week course, according to evidence presented at trial. While they claimed to have donated more than $200,000 to start the foundation, the couple ended up taking more than $400,000 from the foundation’s accounts over the course of two years
The pair “capitalized on the misfortune of wounded Marines in their time of vulnerability and took advantage of the VA’s commitment to serving wounded veterans,” said U.S. Atty. Laura Duffy.
Under the name Wounded Marine Careers Foundation Inc., the program, listed as a nonprofit charitable organization, began in 2007 but lasted only three years.
The program folded amid accusations and legal claims by employees and students that the school had charged too much and exaggerated the possibilities of employment and membership in a Hollywood labor union.
Before it closed, the training program had received $1.2 million from the VA, prosecutors said.
Sentencing is set for Oct. 19.
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Couple Embezzled Funds for Returning War Vets: Military Connection: by Debbie Gregory