Sarah Jane Cavanaugh, a con artist who claimed to be a cancer-stricken Marine Corps veteran and received more than $250,000 in donations, has been sentenced to nearly six years in prison.
Cavanaugh had falsely claimed to have served in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2009 to 2016 and developed lung cancer due to exposure to burn pits.
She even wore medals that she had purchased online, attended veterans’ events, and asked people at the gym to tie her shoelaces, claiming war-related injuries.
On Tuesday, she pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft, forged military discharge certificates, fraudulent use of military medals, and four counts of wire fraud.
She was ordered to repay all the money and sentenced to six years in prison.
Cavanaugh’s lies began when she worked as a social worker at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Providence.
She accessed the records of a real Marine with cancer, falsified documents to state that she served in the army and had been honorably discharged.
She claimed to have stage IV lung cancer due to burn pits exposure and even bought a Purple Heart and Bronze Star medal online, which she wore publicly.
She accepted over $225,000 from the Wounded Warrior Project alone to pay for yoga classes, gym memberships, groceries, and physical therapy.
She even received financial assistance from Code of Support and a fundraising website.
Her story started to unravel in early 2022 when she applied for funds from the HunterSeven Foundation, which conducted a background check into her military services.
During her trial, veterans expressed their fury at her lies, accusing her of taking donations away from those who truly needed them.
One person told the court that their friend took their life after being denied funding from a program called CreatiVets. Cavanaugh took $15,000 from the scheme, according to court documents.
US Attorney Zachary A. Cunha stated that “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.”
Special agent Patrick J. Hegarty added that individuals who falsely represent themselves as decorated veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces degrade the service of the men and women who selflessly serve our country.
Cavanaugh’s attorney, Kensely Barrett, initially sought a lower sentence, citing her lack of criminal history and the embarrassment the case had caused her.
However, court documents state that she had suffered from “severe trauma during her formative years in high school.” During her sentencing, Cavanaugh expressed remorse, stating that she will “always carry this burden and shame for what I have done.”
Veterans’ groups welcomed the sentencing, accusing Cavanaugh of exploiting the kindness and respect shown to deserving veterans.
Lisa Woodbury Rama, a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars 152, stated that her lies had damaged the group, causing a reduction in funds and volunteers.