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Date: 07-20-2021

Case Style:

United States of America v. John Paul Cook

Case Number: 1:20-cr-00126-MOC-WCM

Judge: W. Carleton Metcalf

Court: United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina (Nash County)

Plaintiff's Attorney: United States Attorney’s Office

Defendant's Attorney:


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Description: Asheville, North Carolina criminal defense lawyer represented Defendant charged with defrauding the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA) by receiving nearly $1 million in veteran benefits based on fraudulent claims of service-connected disabilities.

According to the criminal indictment, filed plea documents and admissions made in court, John Paul Cook, age 57, enlisted in the United States Army (the Army) in November 1985. Court documents show that six months later Cook sustained an accidental injury while on duty. Following the incident, Cook complained that as a result of the accident and injuries he sustained, a preexisting eye condition had worsened. In 1987, following a medical evaluation, Cook was discharged, placed on the retired list, and began receiving VA disability-based compensation at a rate of 60%. Over the next 30 years, Cook’s disability-based compensation increased, following Cook’s repeated false claims of increased visual impairment and unemployability due to “severe visual deficit.” As Cook admitted in court, in 2005, based on his claims of severe visual impairment, the VA declared Cook legally blind and he began receiving disability-based compensation at the maximum rate. Cook also began to receive additional benefits, including Special Monthly Compensation (an extra monetary allowance paid to a qualifying veteran due to the severity of his disability), Specially Adapted Housing (a grant that goes toward paying for adaptations in a new home), and Special Housing Adaptation (a grant that goes toward remodeling an existing home).

According to court records, Cook’s monthly VA disability payments in 1987 were $1,411 per month. With the incremental increases in his disability rating, as well as cost-of-living adjustments and his Special Monthly Compensation, these payments steadily increased over the years. By 2016, the monthly payment had risen to $3,990. In total, from 1987 through 2017, Cook received approximately $978,138 in VA disability payments due to his claimed blindness, to which he was not lawfully entitled.

According to admissions reflected in plea documents, contrary to Cook’s filed claims with the VA for additional disability claims and his complaints of increased visual impairment, Cook repeatedly passed vision screening tests to renew or obtain a driver’s license in North and South Carolina. Furthermore, during the relevant time period, court documents show that Cook purchased and registered over 30 different motor vehicles which Cook routinely drove, including on long-distance trips and to perform errands. Court records further show that, from 2010 to 2016, during a time period that Cook was receiving maximum VA disability benefits for his visual impairment, Cook was actively involved with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), including serving as a Den Leader and a Cubmaster. Among the courses the defendant completed with the BSA were courses qualifying him to be a range officer for BB guns and for archery. He was also certified for land navigation, which involves reading maps and using a compass.

The charge of stealing from the VA carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. A sentencing date for Cook has not been set.

In making today’s announcement Acting U.S. Attorney Stetzer thanked the VA-OIG for their investigation of the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Edwards of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville is in charge of the prosecution.

18:641- PUBLIC MONEY, PROPERTY OR RECORDS
(1)
18:1001- STATEMENTS OR ENTRIES GENERALLY
(2-3)
18:287- FALSE OR FRAUDULENT CLAIMS
(4-6)
18:1001- STATEMENTS OR ENTRIES GENERALLY
(7)

Outcome: 07/19/2021 Minute Entry: PLEA HEARING as to John Paul Cook held before Magistrate Judge W. Carleton Metcalf. Defendant sworn and advised of rights and charges. Court reviews plea agreement. Plea Entered by John Paul Cook (1) Guilty Count 1. Factual Basis Found. Plea accepted. Defendant previously released on Bond- at the Government's request, the Defendant is allowed continued release on existing conditions pending further proceedings. Objections to Acceptance of Plea due by 8/2/2021. Government attorney: John Pritchard. Defendant attorney: Emily Jones. Court Reporter: DCR. (kby) (Entered: 07/19/2021)
07/19/2021 22 ACCEPTANCE and entry of Guilty Plea as to John Paul Cook. Signed by Magistrate Judge W. Carleton Metcalf. (kby) (Entered: 07/19/2021)
07/19/2021 23 Addendum to 22 Acceptance and Entry of Guilty Plea (Sealed - Attorney) as to John Paul Cook (available to: USA, John Paul Cook) (kby) (Entered: 07/19/2021)
07/19/2021 24 Notice of PSI Interview Preference as to John Paul Cook (kby) (Entered: 07/19/2021)
07/19/2021 25 CONSENT ORDER AND JUDGMENT OF FORFEITURE as to John Paul Cook. Signed by Magistrate Judge W. Carleton Metcalf on 7/19/2021. (kby) (Entered: 07/19/2021)

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