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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Citrus man pleads guilty to stealing over $364,000 from Veterans Affairs program

A 55-year-old Citrus County man is facing up to a decade in prison and a forfeiture of over $364,000 after pleading guilty to receiving stolen benefit payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

On Wednesday, November 29, U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg announced that Robert Howard Lawrence II has pleaded guilty to receiving stolen government property. He had been indicted on April 25, 2023.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) program provides a monthly benefit that is paid to eligible survivors of deceased military service members.

However, in the event that the surviving spouse remarries, they are no longer eligible to receive the DIC benefits and must report the new marriage to the VA.

According to court records, Lawrence was the surviving spouse of a service member who passed away in 1994. Lawrence remarried in November 1995, and he continued to receive DIC benefits through April 1, 2023.

During that time, Lawrence received benefits that he was not entitled to. Court records state that he repeatedly assured the VA that he had not remarried, despite having actually remarried twice: in 1995 and 2023.

By failing to report his subsequent marriages, Lawrence illegally received a total of $364,497.80 in stolen benefit payments.

Lawrence faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison and a forfeiture of at least $364,497.80. His sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.

This case was investigated by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Hannah Nowalk.