Retired W.Va. state trooper indicted for theft of veterans benefits, drugs

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A former state trooper and Vietnam veteran from West Virginia lied about receiving medals, including the Purple Heart, so he could collect nearly half a million dollars in veterans benefits and narcotics, according to a federal grand jury.

Thomas Cueto, 65, of Bridgeport was indicted Tuesday in Wheeling on one count of theft of government funds and nine counts of fraudulently obtaining narcotics from a veterans hospital from 2010 through 2012.

The U.S. attorney's office in Wheeling said he illegally collected more than $480,000 from the government and has filed a forfeiture action to get that money back, or at least some of it.

Mr. Cueto, a West Virginia state trooper in the 1970s and '80s, was in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1972 and served in Vietnam.

After his discharge in 1972, he applied for VA educational benefits. As part of that application, he attached his discharge form, called a DD-214, which indicated he had earned the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal and the Army Commendation Medal.

In 1996, federal prosecutors said, Mr. Cueto applied for VA benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder connected to fighting in Vietnam.

To support that application, federal agents said, he submitted an altered DD-214 which falsely claimed he received the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge and Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.

In addition, he submitted a counterfeit Purple Heart certificate and other bogus documents to show that he was injured in combat, according to the grand jury.

The VA granted the PTSD benefits in 1999 and he had been collecting the benefits ever since.

The grand jury also said he Mr. Cueto obtained methadone and hydrocodone illegally from the Louis A. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Harrison County by telling personnel there that he had not received narcotics from private providers.

Mr. Cueto is due in court for an initial appearance June 17.


Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510. First Published June 4, 2014 8:01 AM

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