The travel vouchers are an important service. Sick or injured ex-soldiers don't always have a VA hospital in their home town, and driving across the state for a doctor's appointment is a costly endeavor. The government pays 41.5 cents per mile -- in cash -- to help defray the exorbitant cost of gas and other expenses.
Hall and Daniels, both military veterans, allegedly took advantage of a lack of oversight, specifically the fact that nobody at the VA ever bothered to verify the home addresses of people asking for travel vouchers. According to court documents, the pair recruited men to submit vouchers (also known as "travel benefit payments") that contained phony details about lengthy trips to the VA hospital on South Columbian Way in Beacon Hill from cities in Eastern Washington.
One veteran, Aaron Adams, reportedly filed 92 travel vouchers worth $22,511 from January 2011 to February 2012. Adams claimed that he lived in Pullman and frequently made the 498-mile journey from his home to the hospital. But when an investigator from the Department of Veterans Affairs started poking around, he quickly figured out Adams never lived in Pullman. Not only did Adams list his home city as Seattle with the Department of Corrections as part of his parole agreement for a previous drug conviction, both he and his wife allegedly confessed to conspiring with Hill and splitting the profits from each $256 travel voucher. In reality, he should have been reimbursed just over $7 for each hospital visit.
Aaron Adams in a DOC mugshot taken in March.
The other veterans -- the court documents don't say from which branch of the military, and a court spokeswoman declined to specify -- recruited by Hall and Daniels told similar tales. Each allegedly received instructions to visit only the windows staffed by Hall and Daniels, and then they'd divvy up the dough a few minutes later in a nearby cafeteria. Some of the transaction were caught on a hidden camera.
It's unclear exactly how much Hall and Daniels pocketed from their scam, but it was not an insignificant amount. From January 2011 through May 2012 -- the period reviewed by VA auditors -- Hall and Daniels processed more than $110,000 worth of travel vouchers for their alleged co-conspirators.
Court documents say Daniels intended to use his share of the money to invest in a medical marijuana dispensary in West Seattle. To raise money more quickly, Daniels allegedly recruited a man named Timmy Joe Taylor to submit double and triple vouchers, and offered Taylor a stake in the future pot business. Daniels' attorney declined to comment on the charges, and the purported dispensary plan.
According to Western Washington U.S. Attorney spokeswoman Emily Langlie, Hall and Adams gave themselves away by getting greedy. "The VA noted a significant increase in travel benfefit payments, both in frequency and volume of claims," Langlie says. "The VA's OIG (Office of Inspector General) decided it was time to look closer at the claims, and uncovered the fraud."
All seven men now face charges of conspiracy to defraud the government, a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.