Tacoma woman accused of stealing disabled Army veterans’ benefits

A Tacoma woman has been indicted on 11 federal charges for allegedly stealing the identities of two fellow disabled Army veterans so she could pilfer their government benefits.

Rebecca Bjorneby, 31, is scheduled to go to trial in U.S. District Court in Tacoma next month.

A federal grand jury in July indicted her on three counts each of wire fraud, mail fraud and bank fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft.

Bjorneby’s pleaded not guilty and is out on her own recognizance pending trial, court records show. Efforts to reach her court-appointed federal defender for comment were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Bjorneby served in the Army for about a year before being honorably discharged and was awarded disability benefits of $406 per month, court records show. When she served and at what posts were not immediately available.

An investigator with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs began investigating the case in November 2012 after receiving a complaint that someone had used a disabled veteran’s personal information to reroute his benefit payments to prepaid debit cards, court records show.

Special agent Dana Epperson eventually determined that Bjorneby was that person, court records show. Epperson also tied Bjorneby to the alleged theft of another veteran’s identity and benefits and to the stolen identities of three other people, the records show.

One of the alleged victims “suffers from a debilitating medical condition and currently resides in Lakewood, Washington, in a nursing home requiring 24-hour care,” Epperson wrote in a criminal complaint. That veteran cannot drive, use a computer or sign his/her name, the agent said.

It’s unclear how Bjorneby got access to the veterans’ information, but she used online tools available to service members to set up phony accounts in their names and divert their benefit payments to those accounts, court records show.

She diverted at least $21,000, Epperson said. Bjorneby then used the prepaid debit cards to make purchases or withdraw cash from ATMs, the agent wrote.

At one point she posed as one of the veterans to complain to a bank that it wasn’t issuing a check to her fast enough.

“I have no legs. I’m legally deaf and blind,” Bjorneby allegedly wrote in an email. “It is hard for me to get on here and write you myself. I can’t keep going through this and not getting any answers.”