4 Indiana residents sentenced to prison

Four Southern Indiana residents who stole more than $125,000 from people and businesses in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and elsewhere in a scam targeting veterans Americans were sentenced to federal prison this week.

Joanie Watson and James Linville, both of Clarksville, and Amy Bennett and Thomas Johnson, both of Henryville, were sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to five years at sentencing hearings on Wednesday and Thursday before the US District Court in New Albany.

U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler announced the penalties Thursday and also praised the work of Clark County Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Secret Service investigators who handled the case.

James Linville

The conspiracy was led by Linville, who prosecutors say filed paperwork in December 2011 with the Indiana secretary of state’s office to form the Wounded Warrior Fund Inc.

In August 2014, Linville and Johnson also filed paperwork to form the Wounded Warrior Foundation Inc.

Related:4 accused of impersonating ‘Wounded Warrior’ fundraisers to steal $125,000 for personal gain

Linville and Johnson used the aliases of “Sergeant Bob Johnson” and “Paul Bradley” when contacting businesses and people in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and other states to solicit donations for their organizations.

They promised the donations would help provide things such as clothing, school supplies, vacation shopping and long-distance minutes to the families of active military service members.

Amy Bennett

According to Minkler, many victims thought they were supporting the Wounded Warrior Project, a well-known charity that serves veterans.

“We do this out of respect for their dedication and willingness to serve our country,” reads a flyer from the Wounded Warrior Fund, according to court records.

Instead, the group of scammers kept more than 1,000 donations totaling more than $125,000 in checks, cash, in-kind donations and gift cards for their personal gain, according to prosecutors.

“On Memorial Day weekend, we reflect on the sacrifices veterans and their families have made for this country,” Minkler said Thursday. “These fraudsters have eroded the trust and goodwill of those who want to donate to legitimate fundraising organizations that support our veterans. Our veterans deserve better than to have misdirected donations in the pockets of thieves.

Thomas Johnson

Prosecutors say Bennett and Wilson would pick up and deposit checks and other donations from individuals and businesses that intended to donate to veterans and their families.

The four faced a series of conspiracy, mail and wire fraud charges and up to decades in prison.

Linville received five years and Watson three and a half years in prison. Johnson and Bennett were each sentenced to three years in prison.

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A federal judge ordered them to also repay the donations, which totaled more than $134,000.

Prosecutors previously said there were other members of the group, but their names were not included in the indictment which was unsealed in March 2018.

The four defendants were charged with using several banks in Indiana – in Seymour, New Albany, Austin, Jeffersonville, Clarksville – and one in Louisville.

Joanie Watson

The members also used debit cards tied to the nonprofits’ accounts to make purchases at a casino, liquor store and Redbox, among other places, according to court records.

They also sold donated items such as tools and jewelry at pawnshops, according to court records, or kept them for themselves.

Minkler announced Thursday that he would present the United States Attorney’s Award to Maj. Donnie Bowyer of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, Senior Secret Service Special Agent John Ely and Secret Service Special Agent Jeff Ehringer for their work exposing the scheme.

In July 2017, Linville threatened to sue the Clark County sheriff’s deputy if the detective continued to investigate the Wounded Warrior Foundation, according to the indictment.

“Put me in jail, I dare you,” Linville said in a voicemail left for the detective, according to court records. “…I’m going to mock your goddamn court and I’m going to destroy the sheriff’s department.”

The federal indictment would come seven months later.

Contact Billy Kobin at bkobin@courierjournal.com or 502-582-7030. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/subscribe.

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