A former Veterans Affairs Medical Center worker from Pittsburgh pleaded guilty to embezzlement and mail fraud on Tuesday, after federal prosecutors said he stole money from disabled veterans and receive undue pandemic benefits.
Corey Mizell, 51, of Pittsburgh pleaded guilty to four counts of embezzlement and one count of mail fraud, U.S. District Attorney Eric Olshan said.
In April 2020, Mizell began working as an agent cashier at the H. John J. Heinz III Department of the VA Medical Center, where he would deposit veteran benefit checks for patients, who could then visit him to make withdrawals.
In January 2021, the sister of a deceased veteran call Veterans Affairs police about the money in her brother's account, telling them he could not have spent the money which was withdrawn, because he was bedridden.
VA Police said Mizell was the teller for all of the withdrawals.
Olshan said Mizell would call to obtain authorization to withdraw funds from VA hospital patients who were either on a covid-19 lockdown or who could not leave their room without an escort due to their disabilities.
Investigators drove past Mizell's house and saw remodeling work on his home and backyard. He was then confronted by the VA's Office of Inspector General, who said he confessed in writing about fraudulently taking money from veteran accounts, Olshan said in a news release.
Mizell told VA officials he took the money due to lost income during the pandemic and a growing number of unpaid bills. He estimated he had taken $17,660. He resigned from the VA in April 2021.
However, subsequent investigation revealed that Mizell embezzled money from five separate VA patient accounts. Investigators said withdrawal amounts matched deposits into his bank account.
During a digital forensic examination of Mizell's VA computer, investigators also discovered he had filed electronic applications for pandemic unemployment benefits through the state while working for the VA. Olshan said Mizell continued to file for the benefits even after resigning his VA position, claiming he was unemployed due to the pandemic.
In all, federal prosecutors said Mizell collected more than $38,000 in undue unemployment benefits.
He is scheduled for sentencing on March 18, 2024, and faces up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine or both.
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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