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Ex-staffer for Utah congressman pleads not guilty

Tuesday - 1/14/2014, 3:30pm  ET

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A former Utah staffer for U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz has pleaded not guilty to lying about being injured in the Iraq War to collect disability benefits.

Gilbert Prado, 49, of West Valley City, entered his plea Monday, court records show.

Chaffetz's office says Prado landed his two-year paid position in the Republican congressman's Provo field office through the Wounded Warrior Project, working from 2010 to 2011.

Chaffetz has said his staffers became concerned about the authenticity of Prado's story, and his office referred the case to authorities.

Federal prosecutors last month filed a 15-count indictment against Prado for wire fraud and making false statements. He is accused of wrongfully telling Veterans Affairs officials that he had been hurt in an explosion in Iraq in 2006.

Prosecutors say Prado received monthly disability payments from August 2011 to March 2012 totaling $18,000.

Prado's attorney, Nathan Crane, said he looks forward to fighting the charges in court but declined to comment on any of the specific allegations.

A trial has been scheduled for March 24 in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.

Prosecutors haven't challenged the fact that Prado served in the military.

The indictment contends that Prado lied during his VA evaluation for benefits when he said an improvised explosive device blew up 40 feet from him, throwing him against a truck. Prado said the blast left him with a concussion, broken ribs, vision problems, headaches and memory loss, authorities said.

Prosecutors also said Prado falsely claimed he had recurring nightmares about shooting and killing two men and injured his elbows while breaking down doors during searches.

The VA determined in 2009 that Prado had post-traumatic stress disorder, and he received monthly disability benefits. He requested an increase in benefits the next year, citing injuries to his brain and elbows, but the agency denied the request.

The VA did grant his request for an increase in benefits in 2011, the indictment said.

A 2011 congressional office directory shows Prado worked on constituent issues for Chaffetz.


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