TAMPA — The first hint of trouble was a mailed receipt for a television set, ordered for a woman whom Army 1st Lt. Ryan Timoney didn't know.
"Which female have you been buying TVs for?" he recalls his then-fiancee asking.
Timoney's identity had been stolen on June 21, 2012, the day he arrived at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa with life-threatening injuries from a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.
His name, birth date and Social Security number were traded for crack cocaine.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington sentenced identity thief and former hospital clerk David F. Lewis, 50, to six years in prison after hearing from Timoney, one of dozens of victims. He told the judge that his name was fraudulently used to apply for credit at Sears, Target, Walmart, Montgomery Ward and Chase.
"I've been trained to engage certain kinds of threats," the 28-year-old Purple Heart recipient said, speaking from a wheelchair with a red sock over his partially amputated leg, "but I had no idea what to do with this."
He wasn't the only veteran at Thursday's hearing.
Defendant Lewis served 15 years in the Air Force. His attorney, Gino Lombardi, announced that he, too, had served in the military. Lewis' sister, Dorothy, said she served in the Air Force Reserves. She was her brother's only character witness.
"Nobody is here to condone his behavior," she began.
She asked more than once that he receive rehabilitation, directing the plea first to Timoney and then to the judge.
"He is unable to help himself," she said firmly. "I am asking you to help him to help himself."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Sweeney said Lewis had been removed from the military over drug use and had been given many opportunities to deal with his addiction. He turned away drug treatment while out on bail, only to test positive for drug use.
It was difficult for her to be sympathetic, she said.
The lives of Timoney and Lewis crossed the day Timoney was admitted into Haley.
Timoney told the judge what led him there, describing how he went face down in an attack that killed two officers and several Afghans, and being unable to get up despite a desire to react.
"I couldn't move, talk, look," he said. "I just had to hang out." He lost consciousness in a helicopter and remembers little of the two months that followed.
The second of those two months, he was transferred to Haley to be closer to family. His parents live in Jacksonville.
The day Timoney arrived, Lewis printed out 25 patient records, court records state. He later admitted doing so on multiple occasions to trade for drugs.
At least 59 stolen identities were used to file false claims for tax refunds totaling $105,271. Others were used to apply for credit.
When it was his turn to speak, Lewis apologized and asked for forgiveness. He said his actions cost him his job at the VA and brought him shame. "I never intended to get rich or profit from any of my wrongdoing," he said.
As Judge Covington prepared to impose sentence, she asked if anyone had anything else to say.
Lt. Timoney spoke up again and told Lewis, "I'm Christian, I forgive you, truly." Then he said to the judge, "By the same token, it's the duty of government to do exactly what you do, ma'am. You have to hold standards and make examples of what happens when you do crime."
Covington said that after hearing Timoney's story, she felt like giving Lewis a higher sentence, but had to be fair. She gave him four years for access device fraud and two years for aggravated identity theft and ordered that he pay IRS restitution of $105,271.
"While I recognize and applaud your service to country," the judge told Lewis, "you did it to a fellow veteran."
Staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3382.