Local

Two local defendants part of scheme to defraud Veterans Affairs of more than $6 million

ST. MARYS, Ga. — The architect of a multimillion-dollar scheme to defraud the Department of Veterans Affairs of more than $6 million has been sentenced to federal prison.

>>> STREAM ACTION NEWS JAX LIVE <<<

Kenneth Meers, 55, of Altamonte Springs, Florida, was sentenced to 54 months in prison after previously pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He was also ordered to pay restitution of $6,085,918.08 and to serve three years of supervised release after his prison term.

Six defendants in total were charged in the case. They used three scuba-diving shops to create false submissions to be made to the Department of Veterans Affairs. All defendants have already entered guilty pleas in U.S. District Court.

Meers was considered the supervisor of the scam.

[DOWNLOAD: Free Action News Jax app for alerts as news breaks]

The defendants, including Meers, were owners, managers and/or instructors at Scooba Shack in Savannah and Richmond Hill, Georgia, or at Diver’s Den in St. Mary’s, Georgia.

The false submissions to the Department of Veterans Affairs included misstating the businesses’ compliance with VA regulations, dates of students’ attendance and hours of instruction, among other misinformation.

Read: JEA: Customers have reported 66 cases of potential scam calls in past week

According to United States Attorney David H. Estes of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, some of the defendants also participated in creating fake scholarship programs to provide the appearance that a required percentage of non-VA students participated in those classes.

The businesses billed the VA more than $20,000 per veteran student enrollee for the classes.

Locally, Theresa Whitlock, 55, of St. Marys, Georgia, and John Spyker, 39, of Yulee, Florida, are awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty for their roles in the scam.

Read: Elizabeth Holmes gets more than 11 years for Theranos scam

Whitlock operated Diver’s Den and Spyker was a school certifying official and director of training at the shop.

Whitlock provided false information to the VA about diving programs and submitting claims to the VA for tuition payments totaling more than $1.1 million. Spyker admitted to submitting false and fraudulent information to the VA for tuition payments totaling $722,399.19.

“The VA administers a robust program to provide educational benefits for those who have served their country, opening access to substantial career and enrichment opportunities for veterans,” said Estes, a retired U.S. Army colonel. “Kenneth Meers and his co-conspirators circumvented the rules designed to protect that funding, purely for their personal enrichment, and they justly are being held accountable for their crimes.”

[SIGN UP: Action News Jax Daily Headlines Newsletter]

The case was investigated by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, and is being prosecuted for the United States by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia.