HUNTINGTON — A man was sent to federal prison Tuesday after admitting to fraud, but the full toll of his actions on the lives of six of his fellow veterans, including that of the campaign of West Virginia congressional hopeful Richard Ojeda, might never be known.
Jeffrey Scott Miller was sentenced to six months in prison and a year of supervised release by U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers in Huntington. He was accused of accessing without authorization the medical records of six individuals — including Ojeda — while he was a claims assistant at the Veterans Benefits Administration Office in Huntington.
The prison sentence is unusual for that of a veteran. They typically receive some type of leniency in federal court, but the judge said his actions in victimizing his fellow veterans made Miller’s predicament even worse.
Chambers’ sentencing followed guideline standards based on Miller’s past criminal and personal history, but the judge indicated that he believed Miller’s actions, which were misdemeanor charges, warranted a harsher punishment.
He upheld the prison sentence because he felt it “important for this court to speak loudly and clearly,” he said.
Miller had contacted the VA’s Office of the Inspector General in May 2018 to accuse Ojeda of fraudulently obtaining benefits and turned over Ojeda’s medical information to back up his claims. Once the politician was cleared, investigators questioned how Miller had obtained those medical documents in the first place, the Charleston Gazette-Mail previously reported.
By September 2019, Miller pleaded guilty in federal court to six counts of use of a computer for unauthorized access to government documents after accessing medical records for six individuals — including Ojeda — in 2018 through his VBA position.
For each of the six counts, he had faced up to one year in prison, a $100,000 fine and one year of supervised release.
A heavily redacted copy of the investigation provided to the Gazette-Mail shows Miller unlawfully accessed 55 documents on several occasions and took at least one photo of one document on his cellphone. He told investigators he did so because he felt Ojeda was “not acting disabled,” it said. The reports also indicate Miller’s motive was political.
Ojeda is a retired U.S. Army veteran who served 24 years and went on three combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, among other deployments. The information contained diagnoses ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to traumatic brain injuries to bone spurs and tinnitus.
During a victim impact statement Tuesday, Ojeda said he was embarrassed when his records were released because he wanted to keep those things private.
If any good came from Miller’s actions, it proved he was not a fraud, Ojeda added.
“I am not the bad guy here,” he said. “Jeffrey Miller is.”
Beyond personal effects, Ojeda said he is concerned that Miller’s actions “solidified the fear struggling veterans already have” in getting help with mental health.
Prosecutors said Miller illegally accessed medical records of five people who were his co-workers between Jan. 24 and April 16, 2018. He also illegally accessed the files of Ojeda — whom the prosecutors only identified as a public figure — between March 16 and May 24, 2018. On May 17, he took a photo of Ojeda’s medical records and sent it to another individual without a work-related justification for his actions. It is unclear who else could have received those documents and it has not been stated in federal court.
The fraud occurred during U.S. Rep. Carol Miller’s successful campaign against Ojeda, a Democrat, for the U.S. House 3rd District seat in 2018. Carol Miller, a Republican, beat Ojeda in November 2018 with 56 percent of the votes.
The photos were taken days after Ojeda won the 2018 Democratic primary election to run in the general election for the 3rd District seat.
The victims were asked to inform the court of restitution they feel they are entitled to. Ojeda said he was curious about what effect Miller’s actions might have had on the election. Without the full unredacted copy of the VA investigation, however, he said he will never know what that might have been.
“Unfortunately, I do not know the extent of the damage done by Mr. Miller,” Ojeda said.
Chambers agreed that Miller’s actions might have had some effect on Ojeda’s campaign. However, he said, quantifying that into a restitution amount would be difficult and might not be held up upon appeal.
Carol Miller’s chief of staff, Matthew Donnellan, previously said there is no familial relationship between the Millers and that she and her campaign were unaware of the case until alerted by the news media.
Jeffrey Miller’s attorney, Ray Nolan, had asked for leniency for his client, citing his lack of criminal background, other than a prior conviction for petit larceny, his time served in the U.S. Army and his continuous work history.
Nolan also said Miller has suffered great loss because of the criminal case, which includes being fired from his job. A divorce and lack of communication with his daughter also are directly related to the criminal charges, Nolan said.
“Mr. Miller made grave mistakes in this matter. Mr. Miller is remorseful. Mr. Miller has and will continue to suffer from the repercussions of his actions,” his attorney said. “However, Mr. Miller did the right thing and, as stated, promptly accepted responsibility for his actions.”
Chambers said he didn’t understand why Miller would do what he did to his co-workers, and that what he did to Ojeda was even worse.
“You can only have one purpose in doing that,” the judge said. “And that is to embarrass a veteran running for office.”
A second victim, who was a co-worker of Miller, also testified Tuesday. The man said he was embarrassed to know his medical records were out there, especially since he doesn’t know who saw them or what they did with that information.
Camaraderie is everything in the armed forces, he said, and Miller violated that.
“He needs time to sit down and think about what he did,” he said. “A slap on the wrist will be an insult.”
Miller apologized to his victims before being sentenced. He was ordered to self-report to a federal prison once he receives assignment.
Ojeda was serving as a state senator at the time of his bid for Congress, but he resigned from his position just two months after losing the congressional race to run for the presidency of the United States. He exited the 2020 presidential race in January 2019 and has since filed for the U.S. Senate seat held by Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.
Stefan Hasselblad prosecuted the case.