RICHMOND, Va. - A retired Virginia Air National Guard officer was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison Wednesday for forging death certificates to collect about $1 million in life insurance benefits to feed her Internet gambling habit.
Vickie T. Armes tearfully apologized and asked U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson for a more lenient sentence, saying her gambling addiction got the best of her.
"I'm not an alcoholic, but I believe I have a horrible addiction," Armes said. "I honestly believe I was out of my mind."
But Hudson was more moved by a recent discovery that years before she was charged with stealing more than $800,000 from the government-operated Servicemembers Group Life Insurance, she apparently pulled a scam to bilk a private insurance company out of about $200,000.
Federal authorities learned of the earlier scheme shortly before sentencing and asked Hudson to give Armes a longer term than the maximum 2 1/2 years called for in federal sentencing guidelines, which were computed based on her lack of a prior criminal record.
"I was shocked to get this information the probation officer provided about a second fraud," Hudson said.
Armes' attorney, Claire Cardwell, urged Hudson to consider letters from about a dozen of Armes' friends, relatives and former colleagues. They described the crimes as out of character for Armes, who rose to the rank of chief master sergeant before retiring in 2007.
"What she demonstrated in her work history is truly, truly admirable," Cardwell said.
She added that Armes, who pleaded guilty to theft of government funds, already suffered immensely because of damage to her reputation and the pain she had caused her family.
"She stands before you an absolutely humiliated and broken woman," Cardwell said, adding that Armes has been getting counseling and attending a 12- step program.
Hudson, however, said he was greatly influenced by the revelation of the first alleged fraud, which did not result in charges.
"This was not an isolated lapse of judgment," he said. Addressing Armes directly, he said the first incident "tainted my impression of you considerably."
According to court papers, Armes falsely reported the death of her husband _ also a retired U.S. Air Force reservist _ in 2006 to collect a $400,000 benefit. She also later collected more than $35,000 in survivor annuity payments.
In 2008, she forged her own death certificate and submitted a claim in her son's name to collect an additional $400,000.
Prosecutors said in court papers that Armes used such a scheme to bilk Lincoln Financial Group out of more than $204,000 in 2005.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)