September 13, 2008 in City

Sebero’s sentencing delayed

Former Bonner deputy falsified FAA records
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Christopher Anderson photo

Former Bonner County sheriff’s Deputy James Sebero leaves the federal courthouse in Spokane on Friday. He is charged with a number of frauds including collecting $1.5 million in VA benefits after feigning a disability.
(Full-size photo)

Sentencing was postponed Friday for a former Bonner County, Idaho, sheriff’s deputy who admitted to falsifying aircraft maintenance records and now faces more serious charges of getting $1.5 million in Veterans Administration payments by falsely claiming to be a paraplegic.

James M. Sebero was scheduled to be sentenced by Senior U.S. District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush, but the hearing was postponed until Sept. 26 when questions arose about the defendant’s financial status and $10,744 in restitution he must make as part of a plea bargain.

Sebero’s attorney, Assistant Federal Defender Bob Fischer, told the judge that Sebero should be able to make the restitution payment within the next two weeks.

He owes the restitution to Beaverhawk Inc., which owned an aircraft Sebero performed annual inspection work on without having a required Federal Aviation Administration certificate.

He agreed to make full restitution in June when he pleaded guilty to a single count of making a false writing, a federal misdemeanor. Three other similar charges, relating to falsifying FAA documents, will be dismissed as part of the deal.

Besides restitution, Sebero would be placed on five years of federal probation supervision if the deal is approved by the judge. Conditions of that supervision would restrict Sebero’s employment.

“We don’t want Mr. Sebero working on aircraft anymore,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert “Bud” Ellis told the judge while details of the plea agreement were being reviewed at Friday’s hearing.

If the judge follows through with provisions of the agreement, Sebero won’t face any jail time for falsifying the FAA reports.

While the FAA falsification case was unfolding, Sebero was under investigation by other federal investigators for allegedly defrauding the U.S. government out of VA disability benefits.

Separate indictments were filed Aug. 20 in the Eastern District of Washington and in the District of Idaho in connection with that investigation.

In the Washington indictment, Sebero is charged with three counts of making false statements on documents he filled out to begin receiving disability payments after his discharge from the U.S. Air Force in the 1970s. Sebero claimed he was injured while stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base.

U.S. Attorney Jim McDevitt said the case is the largest VA fraud overpayment prosecution ever brought in Eastern Washington.

In Idaho, Sebero was indicted on 55 counts of wire fraud related to the same alleged activity. That indictment alleges the Veterans Administration sent disability checks – ranging from $5,595 to $6,303 each month between August 2003 and October 2007 – to Sebero’s bank in Sandpoint.

After seeking disability from the military, Sebero submitted various applications to the FAA, saying “no” to questions about illness, disability or surgery.

From May 2004 until November 2007, he was employed as a seasonal marine deputy with the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office and “completed rigorous law enforcement and marine training and fulfilled his law enforcement duties without physical restrictions,” the Idaho indictment says.

It seeks a judgment against Sebero for $1.51 million and forfeiture of property he owns at LaClede, Idaho, and at 9713 N. Austin Lane in Spokane, along with a helicopter, a 40-foot boat and other equipment.

Sebero was arraigned Sept. 3 on the three-count Washington indictment and is scheduled to be arraigned at 1:30 Monday in Coeur d’Alene on the Idaho federal charges.

It is unclear whether federal prosecutors in Washington or Idaho will proceed first or if the two federal cases will be combined, Ellis said.

“I have no comment,” Sebero said Friday afternoon after leaving the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Spokane.

Bill Morlin can be reached at (509) 459-5444 or billm@spokesman.com.


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