Federal agents searched the home of a woman accused of defrauding veterans charities by passing herself off as a decorated Marine Corps combat veteran suffering from stage 4 cancer, Coffee or Die Magazine has learned. Investigators have also determined that medical records Sarah Cavanaugh used to convince those charities of a cancer diagnosis were copied from a real patient who was under the care of the Department of Veterans Affairs medical office where she worked.
Authorities searched Cavanaugh’s home in Warwick, Rhode Island, Feb. 3, hours after US Magistrate Judge Lincoln Almond signed a warrant. They seized several phones, laptops, USB devices, and other electronics, as well as a firearm, notebooks, clothing, and other belongings. The contents of the electronics were not listed on public documents as of Friday afternoon, but in the warrant agents requested permission to compel Cavanaugh to unlock any devices that use biometric data, citing suspicions that she may have used the electronics to perpetrate the alleged fraud.
Special Agent Thomas Donnelly with the VA Office of Inspector General told the court he believed there is probable cause to believe Cavanaugh violated federal law, specifically those regarding forging or altering military discharge certificates, fraud, and fraudulent representations about the receipt of military decorations or medals.
In late January, numerous veterans groups began to suspect Cavanaugh had faked a combat-heavy military history for years, pushing the deception far enough to be named the commander of a Rhode Island Veterans of Foreign Wars post. The ruse finally crumbled after a former Marine saw her photo on an Instagram post and started asking questions.
As of last week, Cavanaugh was still employed as a social worker at the Providence VA Medical Center in Rhode Island. A VA spokesman told Coffee or Die the matter had been referred to VA police and the Office of Inspector General for investigation.
Investigators determined the records she submitted claiming she had been diagnosed with cancer were “authentic and belonged to an actual veteran patient” at the Providence VA Medical Center. The veteran’s name had been changed to Cavanaugh’s, but the diagnoses and even the “typographical errors” were identical on the real medical file and the records that Cavanaugh submitted to a veteran’s organization when she claimed she had cancer, Donnelly wrote.
As a social worker, Cavanaugh had access to a “variety of medical record databases and is familiar with DD-214s,” the application for the search warrant states. It also revealed that Cavanaugh did not claim veteran status when she applied for the position.
Cavanaugh also served as commander of VFW Post 152 in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, from October 2020 until her resignation Jan. 31 as the allegations against her came to light.