A Navy doctor from Coronado pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, admitting his role in a scheme to file insurance claims for exaggerated or fake injuries, federal prosecutors said.
Dr. Michael Villarroel, 51, received $180,000 in kickbacks for signing off on claims during the scheme, which obtained $2 million from an insurance program that pays service members who suffer serious, debilitating injuries, the San Diego U.S. Attorney's Office said.
Villarroel's attorney, Joseph McMullen, said his client "takes complete responsibility for his actions."
McMullen said Villarroel is a Navy commander who has served for 19 years, and noted that in 2007, he was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for his service during combat operations in Fallujah, Iraq in 2004.
According to court documents, Villarroel was the medical doctor for the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Expeditionary Support Unit One from March 2010 to May 2013.
According to prosecutors, the doctor admitted that from 2012 through December 2015, he conspired with others, including a construction mechanic in the Navy and the mechanic's wife — a Navy nurse.
Prosecutors said the mechanic — who pleaded guilty in 2022 for his role — prodded other military members into filing claims with the Traumatic Servicemembers Groups Life Insurance program, which provides tax-free lump payments from $25,000 to $100,000 for injured service members.
Participants in the scheme claimed to have injured themselves in several ways, including a vehicle crash or a fall from a ladder or a horse or during a training exercise, according to court documents.
Prosecutors accused the doctor of signing off on several false insurance claims, knowing they were fraudulent. Sometimes he provided the medical records of other people unrelated to the case but who had been injured in accidents similar to those named in the bogus insurance claim, the government alleged.
Villarroel is the 10th person to plead guilty to charges in this or related cases. He was the last remaining defendant, although some are still awaiting sentencing, including the mechanic.
Villarroel is slated to be sentenced June 16 in San Diego federal court. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.
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