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Ex-Army staffer pleads guilty in massive life insurance scheme

A former Army financial counselor accused of siphoning millions of dollars from deceased soldiers’ life insurance funds pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday, accepting a deal with prosecutors that could put him in jail for years after acknowledging he scammed grieving widows and children, the Justice Department said.

After publication of a Washington Post investigation, federal investigators last year charged Caz Craffy, whose duties included providing basic financial guidance for Army families facing the loss of loved ones, with illegally exploiting his government job to produce clients for a brokerage firm where he moonlighted. With control over the accounts belonging to two dozen grieving families, authorities alleged, Craffy oversaw cumulative losses of $3.7 million stemming from shady trades that net him about $1.4 million in commissions.

Craffy, 41, of Colts Neck, N.J., was charged with 10 counts, including wire and securities fraud. His plea agreement calls for a prison term of eight to 10 years. The judge presiding over the case will determine his sentence in August along with the amount of restitution Craffy must pay.

Craffy had faced decades in prison if convicted at trial. His attorney did not return a request for comment.

“Those who target and steal from the families of fallen American servicemembers will be held accountable for their crimes,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement circulated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, which handled the case. “Nothing can undo the enormous loss that Gold Star families have suffered, but the Justice Department is committed to doing everything in our power to protect them from further harm.”

The plea deal represents some measure of justice for the families, who said their trust in the military was violated when Craffy took advantage of his position and their vulnerability in a vast criminal enterprise than spanned more than four years. All told, prosecutors said, Craffy obtained nearly $10 million from the victims that he invested through a shadow brokerage career that went undetected by the Army.

Yet the outcome was bittersweet for those affected. Sharon Hartz said she met Craffy in 2019, days after her son Sgt. Thomas F. Anastasio passed away, and they discussed setting up investments to help his siblings. Those accounts lost $200,000, she said.

Hartz attended Tuesday’s hearing but said she felt unsatisfied by the plea deal and blamed the Army for missing signs of misconduct.

“The way he destroyed so many lives, the way he was so manipulative and took advantage of us in such a vulnerable time, I don’t think that’s enough for what he did,” she said. “I don’t think that’s justice.”

The criminal scheme began in 2018, a year after Craffy was hired by the Army as a survivor outreach financial counselor, the Justice Department said.

Such personnel can be a valuable resource for grieving families, helping “educate and support their clients on their benefits and estate planning needs,” an Army official said previously, emphasizing that their duties “do not include recommending or choosing specific investments and investing money.”

At the time, military life insurance payments were typically $400,000. (The sum was raised to $500,000 last year.) Families can receive an additional $100,000 to help cover immediate expenses and loss of income.

Families interviewed last year by The Post recalled how Craffy gained their trust by leveraging his Army credentials, and that they felt convinced it was safe to invest with him because he was sanctioned by the military. The accounts’ value then cratered because they were often based on speculative assets and volatile stocks, prosecutors said, and Craffy was indifferent to the losses because he was racking up commissions either way.

In some cases, Craffy was assigned to work with families he victimized, prosecutors said. In others, he scoured military databases to find additional people he could exploit, authorities said. The individual losses ranged from $6,300 to more than $375,000, court documents show.

Investigators, lawmakers and military officials said they were shocked and appalled by the scheme. It led to congressional action after The Post’s investigation exposed Craffy’s campaign to enrich himself at the expense of widows and children. The legislation, which was passed last year, established new requirements for the Defense Department to enhance vetting procedures for military financial counselors.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has a separate pending civil complaint against Craffy.

Craffy is a major in the Army Reserve, and it was unclear whether he will face further punishment in the military justice system. The Army Reserve declined to specify their next steps, citing privacy laws. In a statement, Lt. Col Addie L. Leonhardt, a spokeswoman, said, “We take these matters very seriously and will address this issue in accordance with Army regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice to ensure due process.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post
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