EAST ST. LOUIS, Illinois – An Army veteran admitted in federal court Friday to plotting with his wife to bilk the U.S. government by faking paralysis after a car wreck to get disability benefits and avoid being deployed to Iraq.
Jeffrey Rush, 27, also pleaded guilty to fraud charges tied to his product-liability lawsuit against Ford Motor Co. and a seat-belt maker over the 2004 rollover accident he claimed led to his becoming a paraplegic.
Federal prosecutors alleged Rush, now of Nashville, Tenn., and wife Amy Rush, 25, stood to get millions of dollars in their scam, much of it in the Ford lawsuit that eventually was dropped by their attorney when he figured out he was being duped by the couple.
As part of the scheme, court records show, Rush received $107,857 in benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs and scammed $28,730 from the Social Security Administration. Court documents and discussions offered no details on how Rush perpetuated the scheme.
Rush, standing upright in court Friday, pleaded guilty to two fraud conspiracy counts and one count apiece of mail fraud and making false statements to the Social Security Administration. He faces up to 65 years in prison and $1 million in fines when sentenced Feb. 17. He remains free on bond.
Amy Rush pleaded guilty last month to similar charges and awaits sentencing Jan. 22.
Jeffrey Rush was assigned to the 24th Transportation Company at Kansas' Fort Riley in June 2004 when that outfit was told it would be deployed "in the near future" to Iraq.
Five months later, Rush was involved in a one-car rollover accident. Several times afterward, Rush told medical specialists he could not walk and had lost bowel and bladder control, baffling doctors who could not pinpoint the source of his paralysis.
Rush's Army company was deployed to Iraq about seven weeks after the wreck.
Rush insisted in continued requests for compensation and special housing that he couldn't move from the waist down, eventually getting a medical discharge from the Army in July 2005 and drawing $2,700 in monthly VA benefits.
The Rushes sued Ford and the maker of the seat belts used in Rush's 2002 Explorer Sport Trac in December 2005, blaming both companies for his paralysis and his wife's resulting "loss of consortium and conjugal relations." The Rushes went on to have a child in July 2006.
The lawsuit demanded at least $400,000 in damages. The Rushes' attorney, Bruce Cook, had reached a $6 million settlement in a similar case. The lawsuit came weeks after the automaker supplied Rush with a van worth $32,674.
Cook told The Associated Press it became clear he was being duped, saying the Rushes fumbled for an explanation of how Amy Rush got pregnant and how Jeffrey Rush's legs remained muscular despite their claimed lack of use.
Cook said he dropped the lawsuit in April 2006 and apologized to Ford.