Vet fakes paralysis to avoid Iraq
Jim Shur - Apr. 23, 2010 03:19 PM
EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. - A military veteran who claimed a rollover wreck left him paralyzed collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer benefits and was kept stateside when his Army unit shipped off to Iraq.
Doctors could never pinpoint why Jeffrey Rush was a paraplegic, but Kansas prosecutors had an explanation Friday: the 27-year-old was a habitual liar.
While his unit was off to war, Rush snorkeled in Florida and schmoozed at an inaugural ball in Washington in a wheelchair, this time insisting that serving in Iraq cost him his ability to walk. Yet, his legs stayed muscular and he fathered a child with his wife.
Five months after pleading guilty to conspiracy and fraud, Rush stood fully upright before U.S. District Judge William Stiehl on Friday as he was sentenced to more than six years in prison for a scam that he said simply spiraled out of control.
Rush also tearfully asked for lenience for his ex-wife, Amy Rush, who awaits sentencing Monday.
The judge, an 84-year-old Navy veteran of World War II and the Korean War, listened to Rush's sometimes rambling plea for leniency, but sided with prosecutors and ordered him to pay back $314,806.11.
"It's clear to me, Mr. Rush, you do have a problem - your principal problem is telling the truth," the longtime federal judge said.
Rush, who now lives in Nashville, Tenn., insisted he could make things right, claiming he had the inside track on a possible multimillion-dollar real estate deal. Stiehl wasn't convinced, and prosecutor Suzanne Garrison called Rush a "habitual liar."
After the hearing, Stiehl said his own military past had no bearing on the sentence. He allowed Rush to remain free on bond until he reports to prison. A date has not been set.
Authorities said the Rushes stuck to his bogus story that he had lost the use of his legs after a 2004 rollover crash, just weeks before his Army unit from Kansas was deployed to Iraq.
The deception ultimately unraveled after the couple sued Ford Motor Co. in 2005, along with the maker of the seat belts in the 2002 Explorer Sport Trac he wrecked. The suit blamed both companies for his supposed paralysis and his wife's resulting "loss of consortium and conjugal relations." The Rushes had a son in July 2006.
Rush wrongly got $107,857 in benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs and scammed $28,730 from the Social Security Administration, according to court records. Stiehl also ordered Rush to pay tens of thousands of dollars to hospitals where he was treated, the Army, Ford and the attorney who helped the Rushes' sue the auto maker, Bruce Cook, who has said he was duped by the couple and apologized to Ford.
Rush has insisted that he told doctors at a VA hospital in St. Louis that he could walk, sometimes by using a cane, and over time grew less reliant on assistance.
"I was trying to get out of this mess that I was in," Rush told the judge Friday in his bid for lenience, at one point attributing his scam to growing up with an inattentive parent. "My ex-wife and I felt so stuck in this situation, we didn't know how to get out because we were so deep in this lie."
"This defendant's lifestyle is indicative of a lack of self-discipline," Garrison said, casting Rush as an unemployed aspiring songwriter who has drifted between sales and truck-loading jobs.
"He needs to come to the understanding that working 40 hours a week is a lot better than to be in prison," the prosecutor said, arguing that Rush had a "certain moral deficit."
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