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Buncombe Co. man sentenced to prison for defrauding Veterans Affairs of nearly $1 million

By Kari Barrows

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    ASHEVILLE, North Carolina (WLOS) — A man from Western North Carolina will spend several months in prison after fraudulently collecting nearly $1 million in disability benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

On July 18, U.S. District Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. sentenced John Paul Cook, 58, of Marshall, to 10 months in prison, five of which he will serve in home confinement, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Cook had pleaded guilty in July 2021 after claiming he was legally blind following a service-related injury in the mid 1980s. He had then received disability payments from 1987 through 2017, totaling approximately $978,138.

According to admissions reflected in plea documents, contrary to Cook’s filed claims, he repeatedly passed vision screening tests to renew or obtain a driver’s license in North and South Carolina. During the relevant time period, court documents showed that Cook purchased and registered more than 30 motor vehicles which he routinely drove, including on long-distance trips and to perform errands.

“Court records further show that, from 2010 to 2016, during a time period that Cook was receiving maximum VA disability benefits for his visual impairment, Cook was actively involved with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), including serving as a Den Leader and a Cubmaster,” Monday’s release notes. “Among the courses the defendant completed with the BSA were courses qualifying him to be a range officer for BB guns and for archery. He was also certified for land navigation, which involves reading maps and using a compass.”

In addition, Cook was ordered to serve three years of supervised release and to pay restitution of $930,762.53 to the VA.

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