Rock Hill woman accused of stealing $26K from veteran

09/19/2013 12:00 AM

09/19/2013 12:01 AM

A Rock Hill woman has been accused of stealing more than $26,000 from a veteran whose finances and benefits she managed.

A federal grand jury indicted Carolyn “Alexa Oliver” Petersen, 39, charging her with misappropriation of veterans’ benefits by a fiduciary, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Wednesday. If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison.

According to the federal indictment, Petersen was a fiduciary for a veteran who needed assistance managing his affairs, specifically his veteran’s benefits.

Fiduciaries are legal custodians who oversee a person’s benefits and ensure debts are paid if the person is incapable of managing his own finances and affairs.

Responsibilities include using that money for everyday needs, such as food and clothing, keeping accurate financial records and establishing a bank account for the person.

Fiduciaries must sign agreements stating they will not borrow or loan money belonging to the person on whose behalf they are acting. They can be appointed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or by a state court.

From August 2011 to March 2013, Petersen used $26,108 of the veteran’s money for herself and her children, the indictment alleges.

Petersen declined to comment when reached by The Herald on Wednesday.

Catherine Gromek, spokeswoman for the VA Office of the Inspector General, said she could not comment on the case, but an allegation of misusing a veteran’s money is “not a unique problem.”

Between October 1998 and March 2010, the inspector general investigated 315 fiduciary fraud complaints that resulted in 132 arrests and $7.4 million in restitution, fines and penalties.

Nine fiduciaries and one legal aide either pleaded guilty or were indicted or sentenced for fiduciary misuse between October 2012 and March 2013, according to the most recent inspector general report.

“It’s unfortunate these people placed in a trustful position don’t seem to live up to that trust,” Gromek said.

In 2010, Belinda Finn, the assistant inspector general for audits and evaluations, testified before Congress, addressing flaws in the fiduciary program.

Those flaws included fiduciary staff members failing to follow policies; a lack of training for staff members and legal instrument examiners, who are responsible for monitoring a veteran’s needs and appointing fiduciaries for incompetent beneficiaries; and failure to request late reports that fiduciaries are supposed to produce.

The VA addressed those flaws by streamlining training for legal instrument examiners, establishing a service to focus on the unique needs of veterans receiving benefits and beginning periodic site visits to ensure fiduciary policies are being followed.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment further or release details about the victim not in the indictment, including his age and years of military service.

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