September 20 – A Camden County dive shop owner is one of five people to plead guilty to defrauding the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
Theresa Whitlock, 55, of St. Marys, pleaded guilty to false testimony, a charge that carries a statutory penalty of up to five years in prison.
Whitlock operated Diver’s Den in St. Marys and served as a certification officer for schools. She provided false information to the VA about Diver’s Den diving programs and filed claims for tuition payments totaling more than $1.1 million.
As part of the return, Whitlock agreed to seize more than $64,000 seized from Diver’s Den bank accounts.
Four other people affiliated with dive shops in the Savannah area have also pleaded guilty to making false claims with the VA. They are owners, managers and/or instructors at Scooba Shack in Savannah or Richmond Hill.
Kenneth Meers, 54, of Altamonte Springs, Florida, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, with an estimated cost of more than $3.5 million. He faces up to 20 years in prison.
Richard Lanoue, 63, and his wife, Judith Lanoue, 59, both pleaded guilty to false, fictitious and fraudulent claims. They risk up to five years in prison. As part of the deal, they will lose more than $270,000 from their bank accounts that will be spent on restitution of more than $3.2 million to the VA.
David Anderegg, 42, of Richmond Hill, pleaded guilty to false, fictitious and fraudulent claims. He is the store manager, instructor and a school certification officer at Scooba Shack.
“The scale of the fraud uncovered in this investigation is astonishing, especially when you consider that the plan has siphoned funds intended to provide legitimate educational aid to former military personnel,” said US attorney Estes. “We applaud the work of the VA Office of Inspector General in identifying and stopping this fraud.”
The false entries misrepresented the companies’ compliance with VA regulations, dates of student attendance and hours of instruction, among other information.
Some defendants also participated in creating fictional scholarship programs to create the appearance that a required percentage of non-VA students attended those classes.
The companies charged the VA up to more than $20,000 per experienced student enrolled in the classes.
“Protecting post-9/11 education benefit funds set aside for deserving veterans remains a priority,” said Special Officer David Spilker of the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General’s South Field Office. “These pleas are a testament to our commitment to holding accountable those who would cheat VA’s benefit programs.”