NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – A Portsmouth woman pleaded guilty today to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with a scheme to defraud veterans.
“This defendant has been brought to justice for orchestrating numerous fraudulent schemes against veterans who honorably served their country,” said Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “For those who steal, misappropriate, and divert funds that belong to our country’s veterans, this case sends a strong message that you will be prosecuted and held accountable for your inexcusable conduct.”
According to court documents, Rita Copeland, 59, operated an entity known as “Veteran Services of the Commonwealth.” Copeland purported to provide caregiving, contracting, and rental assistance services to various veterans from 2016 through 2020. Copeland caused a number of victims to apply for Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA) grants through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Such grant payments are to be used for certain designated improvements to the residences of veterans. Copeland failed to perform all of the promised work and used a portion of these payments to her own benefit, contrary to the designated purposes of the funds.
Copeland also diverted the income and retirement fund payments of another veteran to a bank account that she had opened. In addition, Copeland fraudulently obtained and diverted loan funds and used the credit and debit cards of this elderly victim. Finally, Copeland engaged in a rental fraud scheme, purporting to link veterans and others with landlords, but then diverting rental and security deposit payments to her own benefit.
Copeland pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft, and she is scheduled to be sentenced on August 27. She faces a maximum penalty of 20 years for wire fraud and a mandatory consecutive term of two years for aggravated identity theft. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Brian Dugan, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Norfolk Field Office; and Michael J. Missal, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, made the announcement after Senior U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson accepted the plea.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Samuels is prosecuting the case.
This case is being investigated by the FBI’s Norfolk Division’s Peninsula Resident Agency.
Combatting elder abuse and financial fraud targeted at seniors is a key priority of the Department of Justice. Elder abuse is an intentional or negligent act by any person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to an older adult. It is a term used to describe five subtypes of elder abuse: physical abuse, financial fraud, scams and exploitation, caregiver neglect and abandonment, psychological abuse, and sexual abuse. Elder abuse is a serious crime against some of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens, affecting at least 10 percent of older Americans every year. Together with our federal, state, local, and tribal partners, the Department of Justice is steadfastly committed to combatting all forms of elder abuse and financial exploitation through enforcement actions, training and resources, research, victim services, and public awareness. This holistic and robust response demonstrates the Department’s unwavering dedication to fighting for justice for older Americans.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 4:20-cr-63.