A former Marine from Arlington who falsely claimed he was injured in combat in Iraq to receive veteran benefits, including a free house, was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison Friday.
Brandon Blackstone, 35, pleaded guilty in September to wire fraud and fraudulent representation about the receipt of a military decoration for financial gain, according to court records.
“Falsely claiming military honors is disgraceful by itself,” U.S. Attorney John Parker said in a statement after U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Lynn sentenced Blackstone in Dallas. “But to do so for financial gain is particularly despicable.”
Lynn also ordered Blackstone to pay Veterans Affairs $322,654 in restitution.
Justin Sparks, Blackstone’s attorney, said he and his client were “extremely pleased” with the 21-month sentence, which was the minimum allowed by law. Sparks said Blackstone “definitely qualified for benefits” as a result of legitimate injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
“The question was how much,” Sparks said.
Blackstone applied to the VA for benefits in 2006, claiming he suffered “multiple physical blast injuries” two years earlier when his Humvee struck an anti-tank mine in Iraq.
The VA awarded Blackstone monthly disability payments, which Blackstone received from November 2006 until December 2015, according to court records.
Blackstone later applied for a house through the Military Warrior Support Foundation, a non-profit that provides combat-wounded veterans with mortgage-free homes. The MWSF, believing that Blackstone had earned a Purple Heart medal, granted him a home in Fort Worth in 2012, the court records said.
In each benefits application, Blackstone’s story — that he had been injured in a Humvee explosion — mirrored that of wounded veteran Casey Owens, the Dallas Morning News reported in November.
Owens, also Marine from Texas who was serving in Iraq during the same time as Blackstone, lost his legs when his Humvee struck an anti-tank mine in 2004. His Marine friends told the Morning News that Blackstone was about 400 yards away when the explosion happened.
“He’s living off a fake story,” Nick Sowers, Owens’ best friend who was also injured in Iraq, told the Morning News.
Owens committed suicide in 2014.
“These were supposed to be your brothers, and you steal valor from one of your brothers?” Owens’ sister, Lezleigh Kleibrink, told the Morning News. “My mom and I just feel so sad for this guy. For someone to do this, you are not a Marine.”
Blackstone was featured in a Star-Telegram story in 2012, when he and other Marines were gathering more than 1 million names of fallen soldiers since the Revolutionary War to be recited.
As in his applications for veterans benefits, Blackstone said he had been injured in Iraq in 2004 when his Humvee struck an anti-tank mine. The explosion, Blackstone claimed, ruptured his appendix and forced him to undergo multiple knee surgeries and an ankle reconstruction.
He returned home and joined The Fight Continues, a group of Marines whose mission was to educate the public on sacrifices made by military families.
“We are the next generation going forward,” Blackstone said in 2012, “and it’s time for us to give back.”