WASHINGTON – A crackdown on fraudulent veterans' benefits claims in the Philippines has halted nearly $20 million in illegal payouts and brought down a large-scale crime syndicate, U.S. officials said Friday.
The alleged leader of the crime ring, Eugenio Carlos, was arrested this week at his home in Laguna, said Veterans Affairs Department Inspector General Richard Griffin.
The syndicate had operated for almost 10 years in the Philippines, illegally charging veterans for the service of filing for their health benefits and then exaggerating their ailments, Griffin said. The syndicate also created fake veteran identities to file for benefits and filed using the names of dead veterans.
"The group used a lot of names that at one time were in the system," said Griffin. "That is how they avoided getting caught for so long."
"This group also victimized veterans by coercing them into applying for benefits through the crime syndicate. This was a total scam."
U.S. officials became suspicious after health benefit auditors sent applicants a request for their fingerprints and received few replies.
The officials created a task force and conducted a seven-week investigation with the Secret Service in an attempt to identify false claims. So far, the task force has identified $20 million in false claims, but has yet to determine how much money the crime ring brought in.
Investigators said they seized 3,000 documents including false affidavits and false medical certificates from Carlos' home.
"It could take months to go through all the documents and really get an idea of how much money the ring made," Griffin said.
Carlos' group also allegedly paid doctors to help create medical certificates, the Veterans Affairs Department said.