He said he was blind, but he should've seen this coming.
A Vietnam veteran from Colorado will spend a year behind bars for pretending to be blind for 35 years, federal prosecutors announced Friday.
Mike Rodolfo Blea, 68, of Northglenn, defrauded the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs of nearly $1.3 million, which he received though disability payments after he exaggerated the seriousness of his visual impairment.
Authorities said Blea did have a minor visual impairment due to macular holes in his retinas and began receiving payments in 1969. But about 14 years later, he told the VA he had lost most of his eyesight and the agency began paying him a 100% disability rate when, in fact, he was eligible for a 10% rate, according to federal prosecutors.
"Justice may be blind, but Mr. Blea isn't," U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn said in a statement. "He will now have a year in federal prison to think about his actions and see a better way going forward."
While VA officials thought Blea was blind, he was getting his eye exams outside the VA system that showed he had 20/30 vision in one eye and 20/40 in another, which means his vision was worse than average, but it was not even close to blindness. In fact, authorities said, he had a valid driver's license and drove around regularly.
Blea was charged last August with one count of concealment of a material fact, to which he pleaded guilty in December. He was sentenced on Wednesday to 12 months in prison, followed by three years on supervised release, and he was ordered to pay $1,273,180 in restitution to the agency.
Gregg Hirstein, a VA investigator, said the case should serve as an example to other veterans trying to defraud the agency.
"The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General is committed to bringing justice to those who illegally enrich themselves at the expense of VA programs intended to help our nation's disabled veterans," he said in a statement. "This case should serve as a deterrent to those who would seek to defraud the VA."
Blea could not immediately be reached for comment late Friday afternoon.
This article was written by Nelson Oliveira from New York Daily News and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.