A Louisiana woman who was appointed as a fiduciary to manage a veteran's finances pleaded guilty Tuesday to fleecing the veteran out of more than $100,000 to buy and repair her own home.
Sloane Signal-Debose, 51, of Slidell, Louisiana, stole $109,217 from the veteran's account and misappropriated VA benefits. Using the funds as collateral for a loan, she then transferred the money to an account in her own name to spend on a house, according to court documents.
"This case shows that the United States Attorney's Office will pursue those who take advantage of the veterans who served our country," U.S. Attorney Duane Evans told Military.com in a statement via email. "There is no excuse for the defendant abusing her trusted position as a fiduciary to use a veteran's money for her own purposes."
Signal-Debose misled the VA using false records, saying the money was spent on a property that the veteran owned. Court records also show that, between 2016 and 2018, Signal-Debose not only bilked funds from the veteran's account from before he needed a fiduciary, but also misappropriated VA funds meant for his benefit after she was assigned to manage his money.
More than $6,500 of the total funds stolen was used to pay contractors for repairs to the home she purchased, according to court records.
Signal-Debose faces five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the total loss to the veteran she scammed, according to her guilty plea. Signal-Debose also agreed to pay $115,815 in restitution to the veteran.
One of Signal-Debose's attorneys declined to comment "since the case is still pending."
The veteran, who was not named, was deemed to need assistance managing his funds and the VA does appoint such financial caretakers, but court documents do not indicate which agency assigned Signal-Debose as his fiduciary.
"Upon determining a beneficiary is unable to manage his or her financial affairs, VA will appoint a fiduciary," according to the VA's website. "The fiduciary is responsible to the beneficiary and oversees financial management of VA benefit payments."
The relationship between Signal-Debose and the veteran was also unclear. Family members or friends can serve as fiduciaries for beneficiaries, but other qualified individuals can be chosen, according to the VA.
"The fiduciary program has allowed me to handle our finances and payments responsibly, and put our family back on our feet, also rebuilding my husband's credit that is now excellent," said a fiduciary for a disabled veteran who agreed to speak to Military.com under the pseudonym Brittney to avoid potential retaliation for public criticism of the VA.
Brittney said that, like other veteran fiduciaries, she was vetted by a regional field examiner to ensure she was fit to handle her spouse's money. Court documents do not indicate that Signal-Debose had any prior criminal or financial record that would raise red flags for her as a potential fiduciary, regardless of her relationship to the veteran.
"The VA always tries to help ensure that veterans do not use their VA pension to gamble, buy drugs, or engage in dangerous addicting behaviors that can possibly be harmful, but there is a very thin line between protection and control," Brittney said, adding that the program doesn't come without its stresses.
She noted that fiduciaries must report changes in a veteran's overall status, to include a change of address.
The case was carried out jointly by the U.S. Attorney's Office and the VA's Office of Inspector General.
"Makes you wonder who appointed that woman, what her relationship with the veteran was, and how the VA fiduciary hub has been monitoring this situation before a similar amount of money was taken out improperly," Brittney told Military.com. "When the woman signed as a fiduciary … she was aware of the legal consequences that could derive from improperly misusing the veteran's funds and her role/responsibility."
-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.