Snoqualmie man sentenced to three years in prison on federal fraud charges

File Photo Darryl Wright, 2014

Darryl Lee Wright of Snoqualmie was sentenced Thursday, June 1, in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to three years in prison, three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $646,300 in restitution for his scheme to defraud multiple government programs, announced U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes.

Wright, 48, pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud in February 2016, admitting he defrauded the Veterans Administration, Social Security Disability, Washington State Employment Security, the Department of Commerce and others with claims of being injured while serving in Iraq. He is a former captain of the Idaho and Washington National Guard.

In January, 2015, the former Snoqualmie Planning Commission chairperson and Snoqualmie business owner, pleaded not guilty to nine counts of fraudulently receiving more than $250,000 in government benefits, following his federal indictment. In March 2016, he changed his plea to guilty on reduced charges, two counts of wire fraud for fabricating claims of disability and receiving payments of approximately $40,000.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office recommended in a memorandum last August that Wright be sentenced to five years in prison, arguing that any less time would result in him continuing “to con government agencies, friends, family, girlfriends and strangers. In fact, Darryl Wright has already set out to recapture the benefits rightfully stripped from him, rather than steer a course to a normal, law-abiding life.”

According to court documents, Wright claimed he was injured in a rocket attack while serving in Iraq, providing as evidence “pictures of destruction which had no connection to his service in Iraq,” according to the June 1 Department of Justice press release on his sentencing.

“This defendant brazenly lied about his combat history to get more than $600,000 in benefits he did not deserve,” said U. S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. “His willingness to steal from a system meant to take care of those who have bravely served our country, or are otherwise in need, is an outrage. There is no question that the defendant earned the significant sentence he will now serve for his crimes.”

In a statement to Judge Benjamin Settle May 26 Wright said, “I am ashamed of what I did and take full accountability for my actions. I sincerely want to prevent anything negative, or remotely similar, from happening again.”

Prosecutors claim Wright’s elaborate scheme defrauded government agencies of more than $750,000 in benefits.

Wright claimed to have post-traumatic stress disorder from a rocket attack and, according to court documents from his attorney, Chris Black, a forensic psychologist diagnosed Wright with depression, anxiety and chronic PTSD.

According to the plea agreement he signed in February, 2016, Wright claimed he spent several days a week in bed, needed a caregiver, and could not prepare his own food, be in crowds or take public transportation.

In fact, Wright played an active role in the Snoqualmie community, serving on the city planning commission and applying to also serve on the board of the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital in 2014. He also coached basketball, ran a consulting business, traveled, and did not require daily in-home care, the agreement stated.

Prosecutors last August found that “the evidence at trial also demonstrated that Darryl Wright was highly capable and not at all hobbled as he described in his (Social Security Administration) application.”

Wright is accused of fabricating invoices for a full-time caretaker, stealing the identities of friends and acquaintances to create fake documents supporting his claims, and obstruction of justice regarding a U.S. Economic Development Agency employee who was terminated after discovering some false orders he reportedly forged to avoid his own termination.

In all, he is accused of defrauding the following agencies: SSA disability, $181,438.20; VHA Caregiver Program, $83,967; VBA disability, $261,719.38; OPM disability, $48,226.49; State unemployment, $29,860; Department of Education loans totaling $41,068.69; the Department of Commerce, salary of $91,260 (the only amount the judge disallowed in the final sentencing and restitution order); the United States Army; Washington National Guard, Veterans Administration healthcare providers; Disabled American Veterans; the Washington State Department of Licensing, for Purple Heart license plates, which the judge allowed him to keep although his medal status has been revoked); and the state Department of Health and Human Services.

In exchange for Wright’s guilty plea, 14 counts of fraud were dropped.

Following his plea agreement, Wright said, “I made several poor decisions that adversely affected my family. I have been a burden to them, but without their continued support and combined VA care, I would be much worse off. The plea agreement represents my accountability … and reflects the poor decisions I made.”

The case was investigated by multiple agencies led by the Social Security Office of Inspector General (SSA-OIG). The Office of Inspector General of these agencies were involved in the investigation: Veterans Affairs, Department of Commerce, Office of Personnel Management, and General Services Administration. Also contributing to the investigation was the FBI, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division, the Washington National Guard, the Washington Employment Security Department and the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services.

Wright offered the following statement following his sentencing:

“One important thing that I feel got lost in this case is I served honorably in the U.S. Army for 15 years, and had exemplary performance reviews from my combat time in Iraq. Additionally, throughout this process, there remains several important aspects that are disputed and there remains a continuation of the appeals process pertaining to restitution.

“I am not concerned with the prison time, because I view that as secondary to my 25-month activation in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. What I am concerned with is that my situation may shed a negative light on the VA and all of its valuable services. I also do not want my inappropriate actions to adversely impact other veterans in any way.”

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons will order Wright to to surrender himself into custody within the next four to eight weeks.

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