One day before the nation again marks Veterans Day, a Georgia man was sentenced to more than two years in prison for exploiting and financially damaging four disabled Minnesota veterans while collecting more than $365,000 in government benefits that he diverted as their money manager to buy a home and a luxury car.
Tuesday’s sentence for Jeffrey F. Horner, 57, of Mableton, Ga., in U.S. District Court in St. Paul of 2⅓ years in prison follows him pleading guilty to wire fraud and calls for him to make restitution to his victims and serve a year of supervised release.
According to Horner’s plea and court documents:
In his role as a fiduciary, Horner was responsible for managing the veterans’ benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA), and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Between April 2010 and September 2018, he funneled the benefits from the federal agencies to at least 12 bank accounts in his name and the names of his businesses.
“Horner’s scheme was accomplished through numerous falsified checks and fraudulent forms submitted to government agencies year after year,” the prosecution wrote in a filing before sentencing that argued for him to be imprisoned for nearly 3½ years. “And when he wanted to steal larger sums that could not be explained as everyday living expenditures, Horner falsified copies of checks to charities in order to further bolster his lies.”
One of the veterans lived in East Bethel and suffered from bipolar disorder. Another lived in Minneapolis and battled Parkinson’s disease and had a schizoaffective disorder. A third also lived in Minneapolis and suffered from depression and other afflictions. The fourth was a son of the East Bethel veteran who lived in Iowa and was eligible for SSA benefits.
One of his victims, the prosecution filing noted, said that Horner’s actions ruined his credit rating and forced him “to live on the streets of Minneapolis starting Feb. 19, 2012, when it was 30 below zero actual temperature.”
Another victim told of being worried about getting money for food and having “to use the food banks when we didn’t get paid.”
Horner’s defense argued for “a compassionate sentence” and said its client pledges that restitution would be fulfilled immediately.
“He was alone, fighting depression and struggling to keep his financial affairs above water,” the defense filing read. “These are factors that the court may consider in differentiating Mr. Horner from a person who steals to fund an extravagant lifestyle.”
The defense then turned to a mix of historical fiction and modern-day thievery on a massive level in its plea for mercy from Judge Paul Magnuson:
“This is not suggest that Mr. Horner is Jean Valjean,” novelist Victor Hugo’s character in “Les Misérables,” who went to prison for stealing bread to feed his sister’s seven children.
“But he is also not Bernie Madoff,” the New York financier whose Ponzi scheme raked in billions of dollars and has him in federal prison until he dies.