TAMPA — The former commander of a local Veterans of Foreign Wars post was sentenced Thursday to 41 months in federal prison for military pension fraud.
Frank M. Persicano, 63, of St. Petersburg pleaded guilty in January to mail fraud, theft and providing false statements to the Department of Veteran Affairs. Prosecutors said he lied about his income and fraudulently obtained about $72,225 from the VA Preferred Pension Program, which provides benefits to destitute veterans.
"This is despicable," Chief U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich said during sentencing. She ordered Persicano to pay restitution in the amount of money he received.
He has been in custody since his arrest on the charges in November.
Persicano is a former commander of VFW Post 6827 in St. Petersburg. In 2003, he received a Silver Star — the nation's third-highest award for gallantry — to honor his heroism in Vietnam.
In 1967, Persicano served as a sergeant assigned to the 25th Light Infantry. He helped two soldiers in his squad move to safety after they were wounded by North Vietnamese army small arms fire.
But no one in court Thursday mentioned the good he'd done. Instead, Kovachevich talked about Persicano's extensive criminal record and how he once falsely reported that he received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
"Everything I see in here could be associated with the word 'fraud,' " Kovachevich said of Persicano's past.
Prosecutors said that from May 2004 until about September 2007, Persicano failed to report income he received while working as a car salesman in St. Petersburg. He placed zeroes on VA forms that inquired about any gross wages from an employer, according to court documents.
"You deserve more time in prison," Kovachevich told Persicano, noting that prosecutors could have requested a harsher sentence than 41 months. "I'll tell you one thing. You do this again, and you can forget about ever getting out."
Kevin Graham can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3433.