Man accused of faking Navy SEAL record was previously convicted of setting fire to New Jersey cottages that housed nuns

popular

A 58-year-old Bucks County man charged by federal prosecutors with pretending to be a Navy SEAL and wounded POW to steal $300,000 in veterans benefits, was previously convicted in four separate cases of arson, including setting fire to cottages at a Roman Catholic hermitage for nuns devoted to prayers and silence.

A federal magistrate judge on Tuesday ruled that Richard Meleski, of Chalfont, would remain behind bars until his health-care fraud and stolen-valor case goes to trial or is otherwise resolved.

"Society is entitled to be protected from his criminal propensities, whether they incline him to burn things down or steal from veterans, their widows, and their orphans," wrote Magistrate Judge Richard A. Lloret in a six-page order.


Lloret also cited a pretrial report that Meleski's fiancée admitted to illegally purchasing two guns for Meleski in 2017. She said one of the guns had since been sold and the other was still at their Chalfont home. Prosecutors said Meleski was not forthcoming about the guns and federal investigators still did not know their whereabouts.

Nancy MacEoin, the assistant federal defender assigned to represent Meleski, could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain announced Monday that Meleski had been arrested and charged with an alleged yearslong scheme 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 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 carrying a dead SEAL on his back, and awarded the Silver Star for his actions, prosecutors allege.

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.

It was in New Jersey where Meleski was convicted four times for arson, the prosecution wrote in a motion for pretrial detention. For just those arson cases, Meleski was sentenced to a total of 19 years in prison.

In the most serious case, in 2003, Meleski was sentenced to 10 years in prison for setting fires at Bethlehem Hermitage in Morris County.

The Star-Ledger reported at the time that the hermitage was the home of a priest and several nuns who "live in individual cottages, almost always eat alone and devote their lives to solitary prayers and chores, and silence."

The prosecutor in the case said Meleski started living there as a guest in November 2000 because he needed a warm place to wait out the winter, not because he wanted spiritual development. In a taped confession, Meleski said he set two cottages on fire in April 2001 on his 40th birthday because he was drinking and angry.

The priest at the hermitage said Meleski worked hard doing chores but he didn't know the rosary or daily prayers, the Star-Ledger reported. After Meleski was arrested, police found a television, police scanner, and empty wine bottles in his cottage.

Meleski also was convicted in an earlier case for setting a school on fire in Middlesex County.

Meleski was convicted of forgery in 1980 and stealing a gun in 1992. In the latter case, he was convicted of injuring two police officers during an arrest and threatening to kill them. He was sentenced to four years in prison for that case.

Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Megan Curran wrote in the pretrial motion that Meleski over the years "was required to complete anger management, mental health counseling and psychiatric counseling, yet the defendant continued to commit violent felonies."

Judge Lloret wrote that the "depth and nature of the defendant's criminality is revealed by his current crime."

Lloret wrote, "The VA was established, in President Lincoln's words, 'to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan,' not as a piggy-bank for Mr. Meleski."

©2019 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

SAN DIEGO — Days after Rep. Duncan Hunter pleaded guilty to a federal felony related to a yearslong campaign finance scandal, he has finally stated explicitly that he will resign from his congressional seat before the end of his term.

"Shortly after the holidays I will resign from Congress," Hunter, R-Calif., in a statement. "It has been an honor to serve the people of California's 50th District, and I greatly appreciate the trust they have put in me over these last 11 years."

Read More Show Less
A Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team Kodiak boat crew displays their new 38-foot Special Purpose Craft - Training Boat in Womens Bay Sept. 27, 2011. (Coast Guard/Petty Officer 2nd Class Charly Hengen)

A collision between a Coast Guard boat and a Navy vessel near Kodiak Island, Alaska on Wednesday landed six coasties and three sailors to the hospital, officials said.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Jamarius Fortson)

The Navy has identified the two Defense Department civilians who were killed in a shooting Wednesday at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in Hawaii.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Navy photo)

A shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida has left four people dead, including the gunman, law enforcement officials said at a Friday news conference.

The shooter and two victims were killed at the base and another victim died after being taken to the hospital, said Chip Simmons, deputy chief of the Escambia County Sheriff's Office.

Another seven people remain hospitalized, including two sheriff's deputies who engaged the gunman, Simmons said at Friday's news conference. One was hit in the arm and the other was shot in the knee. Both are expected to recover.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Victoria Fontanelli, an administrative specialist with 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, moves through a simulated village inside the Infantry Immersion Trainer as part of training for the Female Engagement Team, at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. Oct 16, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Brendan Custer)

Widespread sexism and gender bias in the Marine Corps hasn't stopped hundreds of female Marines from striving for the branch's most dangerous, respected and selective jobs.

Six years after the Pentagon officially opened combat roles to women in 2013, 613 female Marines and sailors now serve in them, according to new data released by the Marine Corps.

"Females are now represented in every previously-restricted occupational field," reads a powerpoint released this month on the Marine Corps Integration Implementation Plan (MCIIP), which notes that 60% of those female Marines and sailors now serving in previously-restricted units joined those units in the past year.

Read More Show Less