A federal judge refused Friday to dismiss charges against a 58-year-old Spokane man who is accused of pretending to be paralyzed and successfully collecting $1.5 million in monthly payments from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Senior Judge Justin Quackenbush, however, ordered separate trials for James M. Sebero, who is charged in the Eastern District of Washington and the District of Idaho with federal crimes related to the alleged fraud. It started in the mid-1970s, authorities say, when Sebero claimed he suffered a paralyzing injury while in the Air Force.
He is scheduled to stand trial in Spokane on April 6 on three counts of making false statements on documents he filled out to begin receiving VA disability payments.
The judge set June 15 as the date for Sebero’s second trial, on 55 counts of wire fraud contained in an indictment returned last August by a federal grand jury in Idaho.
Sebero’s attorney, Jim Parkins, unsuccessfully asked the court to dismiss the Idaho charges on the grounds the individual counts of wire fraud – each pegged to a monthly VA check – exceeded the five-year federal statute of limitations.
Sebero was given a 100 percent disability in March 1980 and continued to receive monthly VA checks until he was called for an examination at the VA Medical Center in Spokane in September 2007.
Parkins argued that any “scheme to defraud” on Sebero’s part expired five years after he was given total disability in 1980.
“The only duty fell on the Veterans Administration, not on Mr. Sebero, to report a change in (his) condition,” Parkins told the court.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Cook told the court that the government “doesn’t have to establish a new (fraud) scheme with each and every payment.”
The defense attorney asked the court to dismiss the charges filed in Eastern Washington on the grounds VA investigators violated physician-client privilege when they secretly videotaped Sebero’s examination on Sept. 26, 2007, by Dr. Reed Rasmussen at the Spokane VA Medical Center.
His VA disability payments were immediately stopped after that examination.
Quackenbush denied both motions to dismiss the charges, saying physician-patient privilege doesn’t exist in federal criminal cases.