Former Soldier Charged With Stealing $250,000 in Benefits


SEATTLE -- A former Idaho National Guard soldier who is also an official in the Washington city of Snoqualmie has been indicted on charges that he lied his way to a Purple Heart and more than $250,000 in government benefits.

Investigators wrote that in claims for benefits, Darryl Lee Wright said that because of an injury suffered in Iraq, he was unable to tie his shoes, prepare meals or pay attention to anything for more than five to 10 seconds.

In reality, he's the chairman of the planning commission in Snoqualmie, a former City Council candidate, a high school basketball coach and a rec league basketball player, according to an indictment unsealed in federal court in Tacoma.

Some of the money was spent on homes, cars, travel and a country club membership, the U.S. attorney's office said.

Wright pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Tacoma on Thursday to charges of wire fraud, mail fraud and making false statements, and he was released with conditions pending a trial set for March.

A voice message left at the home he shares with his partner, Snoqualmie City Councilwoman Heather Munden, was not immediately returned to The Associated Press.

"You could certainly say that we'll be contesting the charges," said his attorney, Christopher Black. "I don't want to get into any specifics, though."

Wright's sister, Karen M. Bevens, of Duvall, was also charged. She's accused of receiving payments as his supposed caregiver. Together, they were bringing in more than $10,300 per month in fraudulently obtained benefits, the indictment said.

It wasn't immediately clear if Bevens had obtained a lawyer. She is due in court next week.

Prosecutors alleged that the scheme dated to 2005, when there was a small explosion about 100 yards from where Wright and other soldiers were standing. Days later, Wright requested that he be awarded a "combat action badge," though he noted in his written account that there was no damage or casualties from the blast.

During the next several months, he continued to press for the badge -- changing the story to say that he had come under enemy rocket attack, prosecutors said.

"Darryl Lee Wright falsely stated that he was 'violently thrown and knocked unconscious from the percussion of the rockets' impact,' " the indictment said.

In supporting documentation, Wright submitted a picture of a destroyed military vehicle with a handwritten note saying it was his -- even though the vehicle had nothing to do with the event in question, the indictment said.

The Army eventually did award the combat action badge. In 2011, it gave him a Purple Heart at his request, signifying that he had been wounded by an enemy in combat.

Wright applied for disability payments through Social Security beginning in 2010, claiming he couldn't work, could only walk short distances, that he used a cane and that he was frightened of traffic and crowds, prosecutors said. He claimed to need a full-time caregiver, and his sister was paid for that work, they said.

Meanwhile, he is also accused of receiving unemployment benefits from the state, falsely claiming that he was looking for work.

Wright filed to run for Snoqualmie City Council in 2013, but dropped out when Munden entered the race.

Snoqualmie Mayor Matthew Larson said Thursday that Wright was appointed to the volunteer planning commission in 2010. About six months ago, investigators came around asking questions about him, Larson said.

"I thought it was a security clearance issue until they indicated at the end it might have to do with some fraudulent activity," Larson said. "I asked Darryl about it some weeks later. He kind of indicated it would blow over."

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Army Crime