October 16, 2008
Federal prosecutors have filed a civil lawsuit against a Navy commander from Maryland's Anne Arundel County who was granted a Purple Heart for injuries he claimed to have suffered when a plane crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
The U.S. Attorney's office in Washington has filed the suit, claiming now-retired Navy Cmdr. Charles Coughlin, 49, of Severna Park, falsely claimed he suffered "a partial permanent disability'' after falling debris hit him on the head.
Coughlin received $331,000 from the Victim Compensation Fund after claiming injuries so severe he could no longer perform simple tasks and avoided activities "requiring abrupt turning of my head or raising my left arm above my shoulder for any length of time.''
However, Coughlin kept playing basketball and lacrosse and ran the New York City marathon in under four hours two months after the attacks, prosecutors said.
The lawsuit filed last month at the federal courthouse in Washington does not raise questions about Coughlin's actions during the Pentagon attack, but challenges the account of injuries he submitted to the compensation fund. Coughlin still has the Purple Heart, and the honors are not under review by the Navy, officials said.
Coughlin's lawyer denies the allegations and said the matter would be resolved in court.
Prosecutors claim the medical terminology he used to describe his injuries duplicated the language that a doctor used to diagnose him in 1998 and he had a "a history of neck and shoulder ailments predating September 11, 2001, including an injury as early as 1978 to his left shoulder.''
The compensation fund denied Coughlin's first application in February 2004, but reversed its decision when it was appealed and Coughlin was awarded $60,000. Prosecutors said Coughlin appealed again, citing services he had to pay for because of his injuries and his award was increased in June 2004 to $331,034, including $151,034 for economic losses.
Government attorneys are seeking to seize Coughlin's $1 million house, his Mercedes-Benz and minivan because he used money from the victims' fund to get them. Coughlin used at least $200,000 of the money to buy his home six months later and to pay off loans on the vehicles, prosecutors said.
The government has taken the vehicles pursuant to a seizure warrant, which is approved by a judge. Prosecutors want the court's permission to seize them permanently.