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Oceanside man pleads guilty to stealing military death benefits

OCEANSIDE — An Oceanside man pleaded guilty today to stealing thousands of dollars in benefits intended for the widow of a military veteran.

During a hearing in San Diego federal court, Michael Vanden Brink, 57, admitted to converting Department of Veterans Affairs survivor-support payments to his own use following the woman’s death 14 years ago.

The widow, identified in court papers as H.C.C., began to get Dependency and Indemnity Compensation benefits in 1972, according to prosecutors. Sometime before March 2004, two months before she died, the Oceanside woman started receiving the funds via direct deposit into a bank account in both her name and Brink’s.

As part of his plea, Brink acknowledged that he had been aware of H.C.C.’s death and had known that her benefits should have ceased immediately upon her death. He further conceded that he had been cognizant of the fact that he was not entitled to the payouts and that the money rightfully belonged to the U.S. government.

Brink also admitted that from July 2004 until February 2014, he alone had access to and control of all funds in the joint bank account, and that during that time he converted a total of $145,035 in federal money to his own use.

“For almost a decade, this defendant stole thousands of dollars intended to help the families of our brave men and women in uniform,” San Diego-area U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman said. “This prosecution demonstrates the commitment of the United States Attorney’s Office to protecting the integrity of programs for our veterans and their families.”

As a part of his plea agreement, Brink agreed to pay $145,035 in restitution to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Brink faces a maximum punishment of 10 years in federal prison along with a fine of $390,060. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Dec. 10.