TAMPA — Army Lt. Ryan Timoney barely survived a suicide bomb attack that killed two other Army officers, and several Afghans, including two children.
“Several ball bearings went into or through my body,” Timoney says on his website. “ I’ve lost my left leg below the knee, have a ball bearing in contact with my spine, and have several in my arms and legs. A ball bearing also flew straight through my brain, entering from my left and stopping after hitting the interior of the right side of my skull.”
He says his training prepared him for a lot. But there was one thing he wasn’t ready for.
The day Timoney was admitted to James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, David F. Lewis, another veteran working at the hospital as a medical support assistant, logged into the computer system to steal Timoney’s identifying information.
As Timoney fought for his life, as his family stood by waiting to see if he would live, Lewis sold Timoney’s information for crack cocaine.
Lewis says he was so consumed by his crack addiction, he didn’t think about the harm he was causing. He estimated he stole hundreds of patients’ information for the sole purpose of fueling his drug habit. Many of the veterans’ information was used to file fraudulent tax returns by crooks who stole more than $100,000 from taxpayers.
Timoney’s information was used to open fraudulent credit accounts.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Sweeney said Lewis specifically targeted the most vulnerable veterans, those whose injuries were so serious that they were being treated as in-patients at the hospital.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Hernandez-Covington sentenced Lewis to six years in federal prison, followed by three years of probation. The judge also ordered him to pay restitution to the IRS and to perform 50 hours of community service work when he is on probation.
Lewis’ sister, Dorothy, who said she also is a disabled veteran who receives treatment at Haley, apologized for what her brother did. “I don’t condone my brother’s actions,” she said at her brother’s sentencing hearing. “If I could, I’d gut punch my brother right now. I really would. We were not raised that way.”
But she added, “I love my brother. I am asking that the court help my brother to get help.”
The defendant apologized to Timoney and all the other “veterans I hurt.”
“I never intended to get rich, nor profit from any of my wrongdoing,” he said. “I was merely feeding my addiction to drugs.”
Lewis’ crimes came to light after Tampa police searched a hotel room in August 2012 after receiving a report of marijuana use, according to his plea agreement. Inside the room, investigators found four computers, notebooks with personal identity information, debit cards in many names and other documents.
Among the documents were patient inquiry sheets belonging to the VA hospital, with names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of more than 30 people. Lewis’ fingerprint was on one of the sheets.
Haley patient inquiry sheets with information on more than 100 veterans were also found during a narcotics search of a Tampa residence in February 2013. And Lewis’ palm print was discovered on one of those sheets as well.
Timoney said his mission in Afghanistan was to work with local police. On May 20, 2012, three months before police found evidence of Lewis’ crime, Timoney was with his unit walking toward his vehicle. They were in a town, and people were milling about.
For some reason, he said, he turned. And at that moment, the suicide bomber detonated.
“I went straight down in the dirt,” Timoney said Thursday. His instinct was to get up and fight, but that wasn’t possible. “I couldn’t move at all. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t look.”
He was picked up by two officers. “Something was put on my leg. That’s the last thing I remember.”
He was unconscious for 12 days. Eventually, he was taken to Walter Reed Army Medical Center before being moved to Haley, partly to be closer to his family in Florida.
“We were just waiting to see if he ever was going to wake up,” Timoney’s wife, Kelby, told the court Thursday. “He did.”
“Tah dah!” Timoney cracked, interjecting humor in the recounting of horror.
Timoney said he and his wife first learned he had been the victim of identity theft when a receipt showed up in their mail. It was for a television sent to a woman. Kelby, he said, “turned to me and said, ‘Which female have you been buying TVs for?”
They got a hold of their credit reports and found lines of credit had been opened or applied for in his name at Sears, Target, Wal-Mart and Chase.
Getting that fixed, he said, was “incredibly frustrating because my priority was staying alive.”
“I’ve been trained to engage certain kinds of threats, but I had no idea what to do with this.”
Lewis said his actions have broken his mother’s heart, and cost him his job and his career. “This offense also made people lose respect for me.” He can no longer show his face at the hospital he once considered a home away from home.
“Please forgive me,” he said. “I’m really sorry.”
As the judge was about to impose sentence, Timoney raised his hand. He had something else he wanted to say.
“I’m a Christian,” he told Lewis. “I forgive you, truly.” Then he looked at the judge. “But by the same token, it’s the duty of the government to do exactly what you do. You have to hold standards and you have to make examples of what happens when you do crime.”