Veterans advocate Robert Rosebrock expressed outrage at the prison term given to a former US Department of Veterans Affairs official who pled guilty to tax fraud and lying to investigators when he denied taking bribes from a crooked parking lot operator at the VA’s Westside medical center campus.
Ralph Tillman, 58, was sentenced to five months in federal prison — followed by five months of home detention and a year of supervised release — by US District Judge R. Gary Klausner on Monday, Sept. 24. Tillman was also ordered to pay $62,000 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service.
Rosebrock, who served in the US Army and is the director of the Old Veterans Guard, was in the courtroom on Monday when the sentence was handed down. He had sent a petition to Klausner in August asking for a maximum sentence of eight years be imposed. He also sent a letter to the judge, dated Sept. 20, seeking “no mercy and no leniency for this disgraceful public civil servant.”
“If ever there was a punishment to fit the crime, [Tillman] would be sentenced to life on Skid Row and handcuffed to a dumpster,” Rosebrock told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol.
“I give people the benefit of the doubt because we are human and make mistakes. But the fact is that he did this for a decade and, then he was still taking kickbacks after investigators approached him and he resigned…”
After the sentence was pronounced, Tillman was immediately taken into custody.
“There’s no excuse for what I did,” Tillman told the court, apologizing to his family “and especially to the employees” of the VA.
“I am a veteran,” Tillman continued. “I look in the mirror and I’m ashamed for what I did.”
That didn’t mollify Rosebrock.
“We wanted to see him handcuffed [at the sentencing] but they ordered everyone out of courtroom,” he said. “I want to find out where he ends up. We have a right to that.”
Rosebrock’s wasn’t the only furious response.
The defendants’ crimes have caused “profound and lasting damage” to the VA, said Meghan Flanz, executive director in charge of the master plan to revitalize the 388-acre medical center campus.
In a letter submitted to the court on behalf of the healthcare system’s executive team in Los Angeles, she expressed “continuing anger, frustration and disgust regarding the actions of the defendants.”
Flanz wrote that while years have passed since Tillman and Scott first conspired to defraud the government, “their corruption continues to harm our campus, our employees, our reputation in the community, and most importantly, the veterans we are honored to serve.”
Although Tillman faced a sentencing guideline range of 15 to 21 months behind bars, the government asked for a downward departure based on the defendant’s cooperation in helping prosecutors analyze the fraud and cover-up.
The Whittier man met with government agents for more than 80 hours, helping to unravel the complex scheme, prosecutors said.
Early last month, Tillman complied with a request to speak to VA employees and again to investigators at the VA Office of Inspector General to educate them about “how to detect red flags” when fraud is suspected, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ruth Pinkel said.
Tillman, who resigned in 2014 after being confronted by VA investigators, admitted that he took nearly $290,000 in “hush money” from Richard Scott, owner of Westside Services, which had a contract to operate public parking locations across the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.
Scott, 58, of Santa Monica was sentenced last month to nearly six years in prison for swindling the VA out of at least $12 million generated by his parking lots and bribing Tillman to keep the long-running scheme secret.
Klausner told Tillman that his apology to the VA and its employees “was significant.”
As part of his job, Tillman was responsible for managing contracts with “sharing partners,” such as Scott’s Westside Services, which were required to share revenues with the agency. He admitted that he first solicited a bribe from Scott in late 2003. About 18 months later, Scott began making monthly cash payments to Tillman, with Scott personally delivering the bribes in sealed FedEx envelopes.
In return for the cash, Tillman failed to scrutinize annual statements from Scott that he knew contained inaccurately reported revenues and expenses.
Tillman also admitted that he knew Scott was defrauding the VA out of millions of dollars and that he entered into a contract extension with the parking lot operator in 2011 to continue the fraud and bribery scheme.
“Scott could not have gotten a dollar out of the VA without Tillman’s cooperation,” Rosebrock said.
Prosecutors said that during an interview with special agents from the VA’s Office of Inspector General in September 2014, Tillman lied when he denied accepting money or anything of value from Scott. In his plea agreement, Tillman admitted taking $286,250 from Scott from 2003 through last year, even after his retirement.
The VA contract with Scott was terminated in early 2017 after the agency settled a lawsuit that challenged the VA’s use of its Westside campus for any purposes not specifically related to the care and housing of veterans.