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Former W.Va. state trooper may see prison

 

CLARKSBURG, W.Va.  — A three-year Army veteran of Vietnam who followed that service with an 11-year career as a West Virginia state trooper is now looking at a potential federal prison sentence.

That’s because Thomas Cueto, 65, of Bridgeport, lied about his military decorations on a document he submitted to the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1999.

Cueto unlawfully collected about half a million dollars in Veterans Affairs post-traumatic stress syndrome benefits until an anonymous tip recently sparked an investigation by the VA Office of Inspector General.

Cueto did serve with the Army in Vietnam, from April 21, 1969, to Jan. 20, 1972, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Cogar. And the defendant did correctly submit discharge/release paperwork to other agencies prior to his crime, Cogar told U.S. Magistrate John S. Kaull.

But in 1999, Cueto supplied Veterans Affairs with falsified military discharge/release paperwork, according to Cogar. In that filing, Cueto lied about having received the Combat Infantry Badge; a Purple Heart; a Bronze Star with V Device; and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, Cogar indicated.

The government obtained information from at least one witness that Cueto (pronounced Cute’Oh) wasn’t in a danger zone while he was in Vietnam and wasn’t injured.

“I don’t know what happened, and you tarnished your own reputation in the service and your service in those two great institutions (the military and State Police),” Kaull told Cueto at the end of Tuesday’s hearing. “I don’t know why, but I wish you well.”

Cueto replied that he thinks about what he has done all the time, and that he still doesn’t understand why he took the action he did.
An appeal waiver contained in the plea agreement seems to indicate Cueto might be facing a sentence of anywhere from 2 years to 2 1/2 years in federal prison.

However, Cueto’s lawyer, Steve Jory of McNeer, Highland, McMunn and Varner LC, is likely to ask U.S. District Judge Irene M. Keeley for a downward departure based on his client’s medical condition…

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