Rhode Island woman who faked being a cancer-stricken Marine veteran and raked in more than $250K from well-wishers is sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to scam
A con artist who raked in more than $250,000 worth of donations after lying about being a cancer-stricken Marine Corps veteran has been sentenced to nearly six years in prison. Sarah Jane Cavanaugh (pictured) claimed to have served in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2009 until 2016 during which time she developed lung cancer due to her exposure to burn pits. She was so committed to her act she wore medals she had bought online, attended veterans’ events and even asked peers at the gym to tie her shoelaces as she claimed war-related injuries to her fingers left her unable to tie them herself.
On Tuesday she was jailed for six years and ordered to repay all of the money after pleading guilty to aggravated identity theft, forged military discharge certificates, fraudulent use of military medals and four counts of wire fraud. Veterans’ groups welcomed the sentencing as they accused the 32-year-old of exploiting the ‘kindness and respect shown to our nation’s deserving veterans.’ Cavanaugh’s web of lies began when she was working as a social worker at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Providence.
She used her position to access the records belonging to a real Marine with cancer and then falsified documents to state she served in the army before being honorably discharged. She claimed to have stage IV lung cancer as a result of her exposure to burn pits. Cavanaugh even bought a Purple Heart and Bronze Star medal online and wore them publicly and was named commander of a Veterans of Foreign Wars post. The Rhode Island native accepted more than $225,00 from the Wounded Warrior Project alone to pay for yoga classes, gym memberships, groceries and physical therapy.
She later alleged she could not afford the insurance deductibles for her cancer treatment prompting a veteran to pay them for her – costing nearly $600 a month. The money came from the same veteran whose medical details she had first stolen. And prosecutors said Cavanaugh managed to get a service dog that was meant to help soothe the ‘trauma’ she had supposedly been exposed to in battle.
She also received $18,500 in financial assistance from Code of Support in Virginia for bills and $4,700 from a fundraising website. Her story started to unravel in early 2022 after she applied for funds from the HunterSeven Foundation who conducted a background check into her military services. Veterans expressed their fury at Cavanaugh’s lies during her trial as they accused her of taking donations away from those who truly needed it. Pictured: Cavanaugh’s house in Warwick, Rhode Island. She is said to have used some of the cash she stole on home repairs.
One told the court they had a friend who took their life after being denied funding from a program called CreatiVets. Cavanaugh took $15,000 from the scheme, court documents state. ‘By brazenly laying claim to the honor, service, and sacrifice of real veterans, this defendant preyed on the charity and decency of others for her own shameless financial gain,’ US Attorney Zachary A. Cunha said following her sentencing. Meanwhile Patrick J. Hegarty, a special agent in a Northeast Field Office, said: ‘Individuals who falsely represent themselves as decorated veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces degrades the service of the men and women who selflessly serve our country.’
Lisa Woodbury Rama (pictured), a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars 152, said her lies had ‘damaged us.’ And court documents state she had suffered from ‘severe trauma during her formative years in high school.’ ‘There are things we’re trying to get out there and support and … we don’t have as much money, we don’t have as many volunteers. You can’t put a dollar figure on that,’ she said. Kensely Barrett, Cavanaugh’s attorney, initially sought a lower sentence citing her lack of criminal history and the embarrassment the case had caused her. In court Cavanaugh said she will ‘always carry this burden and shame for what I have done.’
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