Idaho man pleads guilty in major veteran’s benefits fraud case

SPOKANE — A former Idaho sheriff’s deputy who falsely claimed he was paraplegic has pleaded guilty in a $1.5 million disability fraud case that U.S. attorneys say could be the largest in Veterans Affairs Department history.

James M. Sebero, 59, of Laclede, Idaho, accepted an agreement with government lawyers and pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court to wire fraud and making a false statement. He also agreed to forfeit personal assets and to pay $950,000 in restitution.

Sebero, a former Bonner County, Idaho, sheriff’s marine deputy, could face 20 years and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced July 10.

U.S. Attorney James A. McDevitt said it was the largest disability compensation fraud case in VA history.

“By his actions, Mr. Sebero disgraced the system that compensates all those veterans who are truly disabled and who are fairly compensated for their injuries sustained in service to their country,” McDevitt said.

Sebero served in the Air Force from 1969 to 1975, when he told military personnel he was injured while unloading a snowmobile. He later claimed he had lost the use of his legs.

After he retired and began receiving disability compensation the next year, Sebero began started Custom Excavation and continued operating the business until 1992, investigators found. Since 1992 he has owned and operated Custom Aviation, an aircraft maintenance operation for small planes at Felts Field in Spokane.

He also obtained a pilot’s license after denying any medical problem or disability on his application to the Federal Aviation Administration, government lawyers wrote.

He came under scrutiny after authorities accused him of operating the aircraft maintenance business without FAA certification.

Investigators used a hidden video camera to record Sebero’s visit to a doctor for a physical examination on Sept. 26, 2007, at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Spokane, his first since 1978, according to documents filed in court. In that visit, he was in a wheelchair and told the doctor he had been unable to work or walk since he left the Air Force.

The next day, investigators watched him walk into court without assistance to face charges in an unrelated federal false statements case. He was arrested after that court appearance.

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