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DOJ: Two charged with defrauding disabled Perry County veteran of $316,360

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A Newport woman and her ex-husband were charged with defrauding a disabled veteran, the Veteran’s Administration and the Social Security Administration out of $316,360, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

The charges were announced Monday against Laurie Ehrhart, 48, of Newport, and Jason Ehrhart, 48, of Thompsontown, Pennsylvania. Laurie Ehrhart is charged with one count of health care fraud and one county of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, and Jason Ehrhart is charged with one count of health care fraud.

According to U.S. Attorney David Freed, a veteran, who was a former resident of Perry County, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while serving in the U.S. Army in 1985. The veteran later began receiving disability benefits from the VA and SSA and was hospitalized on a permanent basis at the VA hospital in Lebanon on Nov. 8, 2004.

The veteran was deemed by the VA on Aug. 8, 2006, to be incompetent to handle his own financial affairs, according to the office.

Charging documents say Jason Ehrhart on Oct. 2, 2006, successfully applied to serve as the veteran’s VA fiduciary and legal custodian. The agreement warned him the funds were exclusively for the veteran’s benefit and that he had to submit an annual accounting to the VA with respect to the amount of money spent on the veteran’s behalf.

Documents say that Jason and Laurie Ehrhart, who was then Jason’s wife, misspent $316,360 of the veteran’s VA and Social Security disability benefits on themselves between October 2006 and August 2016.

Charging documents allege that $316,360 of the total $476,260 in benefits deposited was misappropriated and converted to their own use. Checks totaling $218,832 ($96,202 to Jason Ehrhart and $122,630 to Laurie Ehrhart) were drawn against the account, with some checks exceeding $5,000 to $7,000.

Of that, $157,742 were deposited into their joint checking account, and at least $23,496 was converted to cash, the office said.

Another $7,174 in checks was made payable to their two minor children, with Jason Ehrhart allegedly instructing them to take the checks to the bank, cash them and surrender the cash to him, charging documents said.

Documents also said that another $19,890 in checks was made payable to another couple who were the suspects’ best friends. The office said Jason Ehrhart regularly treated them and their children to dinners out and at least two, all-expense paid vacations to Disney World in Florida, as well as two vehicles for the family and the wife’s dental work.

The office said that to conceal his embezzlements, Jason Ehrhart submitted eight false annual accountings to the VA, in which he falsely claimed he spent the money on the veteran’s behalf between October 2006 and October 2015. The office said the itemized expenditures were grossly inflated, including mortgage payments for the veteran’s residence and the veteran’s share of the mortgage on his mother’s residence, both of which were foreclosed and sold.

The attorney’s office also said the Jason Ehrhart also falsely claimed that he spent thousands on other miscellaneous items, including a specially equipped wheelchair van, which in 2016 was found broken down and abandoned along a Perry County road.

The veteran died at the Lebanon VA Hospital on July 30, 2018, according to the office.

Laurie Ehrhart was arraigned on charges Monday afternoon and released on her own recognizance. No date has yet been set for Jason Ehrhart’s initial appearance on federal charges, the office said.

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