May 18, 2018 09:32 AM
A former mayor in the east metro was sentenced to two years probation Thursday after admitting he lied about his military service to obtain more than $137,000 in veteran healthcare and disability payments.
Robert Livingston, the former mayor of Lakeland, lied about being a “highly decorated” Army Lieutenant Colonel who went on a “secret mission” behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, and had been awarded medals for “extreme courage," according to federal court records.
Livingston, 75, pled guilty to a misdemeanor count of making false demands against the government and was ordered to repay veteran’s benefits he had obtained since 2010.
He admitted to federal agents that he went through 35 drafts to make his fraudulent discharge papers look “believable” before submitting them to the Veterans Administration, according to court records.
“I’m very sorry how this this turned out,” Livingston said in court. “I never intended to disparage any service members.”
A 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS INVESTIGATION found Livingston’s story began to unravel in 2016 when fellow members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars POST 924 in Woodbury questioned his service records and medals.
They reported their suspicions to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
But federal judge Paul A. Magnuson said prosecutors asking for 10 months of prison time despite Livingston's numerous health issues was a case of the government “not having a heart."
“It’s not going to happen,” Magnuson said before putting Livingston on probation instead of sending him to prison.
He did add: "What occurred was wrong.”
A dozen VFW members were in federal court in St. Paul as Livingston was sentenced.
"Justice was denied today," VFW member Darrin Ewing said. "He was not sentenced to jail for the crimes he committed. This sends a message anybody can steal from the government and get away with it."
In a statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, Rep. Jack Bergman of Michigan, chairman of the VA Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation, said: “Falsifying military service documents to obtain VA benefits is not only a serious crime, but also shows a tremendous disregard for those who have worn our nation’s uniform. ”
The congressman, who is originally from Shakopee, stated improper VA healthcare and benefits costs taxpayers nearly $11 billion per year.
“I commend the members of VFW Post 9024 in Woodbury, MN, who alerted local law enforcement and assisted federal investigators in making this case,” Berman said.
But his attorney said Livingston was acting out of need.
“Mr. Livingston did not create the documents to insult or ‘steal valor’ from Veterans,” Mike Millios wrote in a court filing.
“He was not using the money to purchase big screen televisions and fancy cars. He needed it to live."
Federal prosecutors argued a signal needed to be sent.
“Livingston had no reason to falsely claim VA benefits, but he did so anyway,” they added.
Livingston was ordered to pay back the more than $137,000 in VA healthcare and disability benefits he received.
It remains unclear who inside the VA system approved Livingston's fake service discharge papers - the key step in getting into the system for care.
"We have no idea, but if we don't start looking into this now, more of these cases are going to come forward," Ewing said.
Updated: May 18, 2018 09:32 AM
Created: May 17, 2018 05:27 PM
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