A 58-year-old Bucks County man pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to pretending to be a Navy SEAL and wounded prisoner of war to steal $300,000 in veterans benefits, prosecutors said.
Richard Meleski of Chalfont pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Timothy J. Savage to health-care fraud, mail fraud, stolen valor, and abetting straw purchases of firearms.
Savage scheduled Meleski’s sentencing for Nov. 3.
Meleski was indicted late last year for scheming to obtain health-care benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs and disability benefits from the Social Security Administration.
Meleski claimed to have served as a Navy SEAL in Beirut, Lebanon, during the 1980s. He said that during that time, he was beaten, shot, and tortured while held as a prisoner of war, then heroically jumped out a window while carrying a dead SEAL on his back, and was awarded the Silver Star for his actions.
In reality, Meleski “never served in the United States military” and was “in the state of New Jersey, not Beirut, at the time of his claimed incidents,” according to the indictment.
Meleski also was charged with illegally obtaining firearms after his fiancée admitted to illegally purchasing two guns for him. He also pleaded guilty to that on Wednesday.
U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain said in a statement: “Everything about this case is profoundly offensive. Our veterans fought for the freedoms we hold dear, and we owe them a debt that we can never fully repay. But holding individuals like Meleski accountable for their crimes is one small way that we can honor our veterans’ service.”
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