A former Department of Veterans Affairs employee has been charged with hatching a scheme to steal and then sell the personal information of veterans and VA employees, according to a Jan. 25 Justice Department statement.
An indictment unsealed on Jan. 26 revealed that Phillip Hill — a 32-year-old from Benton, Arkansas, and a former VA database manager — stands accused of aggravated identity theft, attempting to traffick social security numbers, and possessing “device-making equipment.”
“Mr. Hill tried to use his position and skills to enrich himself at the expense of veterans who have honorably served our country, and the VA employees working to serve them,” Cody Hiland, a U.S. attorney for Arkansas’s eastern district, said in the release.
Hill offered to sell the personal information of veterans, their dependents, and VA employees for $100,000 to a confidential source, according to investigators, but that source happened to be working with law enforcement. Though Hill was fired from the VA on Dec. 6, after his termination, he “could still access the information remotely with a VA computer in his possession,” or by, you know, stealing a VA server — and that’s how he got caught.
Before Hill could make good on the alleged plan, law-enforcement officers picked him up on Dec. 17, 2017, at a secure area housing the VA data he was reportedly looking to loot. Following his arrest, officers found a VA computer at Hill’s home, in addition to “illegally possessed blank identification cards,” according to the statement.
Hill’s case is the latest in a number of would-be fraudsters outed by law enforcement and the VA Office of the Inspector General, the department’s watchdog. There’s Russel Ware, who hatched a scheme to reroute some $66,000 in disability benefits from veterans to himself and an accomplice; a veteran who faked blindness to bilk the government out of half a million dollars; and a bribery plot involving a parking-lot operator and a VA employee tasked with overseeing the account. Plus, a couple who probably watched too much Breaking Bad and decided to start a drug ring by boosting oxy from the VA with the intent to sell it.
As for Hill, his trial date is set for March 5, 2018. If found guilty, the max penalty for trafficking in ill-gained social security numbers is up to 10 years, with an additional three years of supervised release. As for the identity theft charge, that could bring two years behind bars, and one more under supervision. And the max penalty for possessing access device-making equipment — like those cards and VA hardware — comes out to 15 years in prison and three years of supervision. Oh, and each charge brings a max penalty of $250,000.