DOJ: Portsmouth woman charged with fraud scheme targeting veterans


NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – On Friday, the Department of Justice said a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging a Portsmouth woman with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with a scheme to defraud veterans.

59-year-old Rita Copeland allegedly operated an organization known as, “Veteran Services of the Commonwealth,” the Department of Justice said.

According to the indictment, Copeland purported to provide caregiving, contracting, and rental assistance services to various veterans from 2016 through 2019.

Documents said Copeland allegedly caused a number of victims to apply for Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA) grants through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Copeland is charged with eight counts of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.

The grant payments are to be used for certain designated improvements to the residences of veterans.

Copeland allegedly 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.

In addition, the DOJ said Copeland also allegedly diverted the income and retirement fund payments of another veteran to a bank account that she had opened.

Copeland allegedly fraudulently obtained and diverted loan funds and used the credit and debit cards of this elderly victim.

Finally, Copeland also allegedly engaged in a rental fraud scheme, purporting to link veterans with landlords, but then diverting rental and security deposit payments to her own benefit, the DOJ said in a press release.

If convicted the DOJ said, Copeland faces a maximum penalty of 20 years on the wire fraud charges and a mandatory consecutive term of two years on the aggravated identity theft charge.

Combatting elder abuse and financial fraud targeted at seniors is a key priority of the Department of Justice. The DOJ said, “elder abuse is an intentional or negligent act by any person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to an older adult.”

Elder abuse 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.

According to statistics elder abuse affects at least 10 percent of older Americans every year.

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