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Man admits stealing $145,000 in VA benefits after military widow's death

An Oceanside man has pleaded guilty to stealing more than $145,000 from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs by continuing to receive compensation meant for a military widow for nearly 10 years after her death, federal prosecutors said.

Michael Vanden Brink, 57, waived an indictment, was arraigned and pleaded guilty to a charge of theft of public property Wednesday in U.S. District Court, according to court documents and prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California.

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Prosecutors said Brink shared a bank account with the widow of a military veteran who began to receive Dependency and Indemnity Compensation benefits from the VA in 1972. When the woman died in June 2004, the benefits should have stopped.

Instead, Brink continued to receive and use the payments, which were deposited directly into the shared bank account, between July 2004 and February 2014, according to Assistant U.S. Atty. Matthew Brehm and Special Assistant U.S. Atty. Jeffrey Hill.

The nature of the relationship that allowed Brink to share a bank account with the widow, who was identified only by her initials, was unclear.

According to prosecutors, Brink admitted that he knew the benefit payments should have stopped arriving when the woman died, and that he was not entitled to use the benefits. He told a judge that he accepted $145,035 in fraudulent payments from the VA for his own use.

The fraud was uncovered by investigators from the VA’s Office of Inspector General.

As part of his plea agreement, Brink agreed to pay full restitution to the VA, prosecutors said. His crime carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Riggins writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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