A South Carolina woman has pleaded guilty to conspiracy for using her position as a managing partner at a law firm to exploit military veterans and elderly investors as part of a nationwide cash flow scheme, the Justice Department announced Thursday.
From approximately 2012 to 2021, Candy Kern, 55, used her law firm to prey on retiree investors and “military veterans in desperate financial straits” by illegally assigning veterans’ benefits, a DoJ release stated.
As part of the scheme, Kern directed financially struggling veterans to accept lump sum cash payments in exchange for the veterans’ monthly retirement or disability earnings, which Kern would arrange in contracts — replete with credit background checks, interest rates and legal ramifications — to be paid out, with interest, over an agreed-upon term.
Kern and other partners would then solicit elderly investors seeking to bolster their retirement to invest in the contracts by providing the lump sum payments, which they were told would yield a return over time.
Throughout the entirety of the scheme, Kern and her partners knew that each contract was void from the start due to federal laws that prohibit the reassignment of pensions.
“For more than eight years, Kern, through her law firm, served as the banker, legal counsel, and debt collector” in the scheme, the release stated. Kern even went as far as filing suits against veterans who defaulted on their payments, according to court documents.
In all, an estimated $14 million in illegally assigned veterans’ payments were funneled through accounts managed by Kern’s law firm. The retiree investors duped by Kern and her partners lost more than $31 million.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina Adair Boroughs called Kern’s use of her standing as a lawyer to facilitate the scheme “reprehensible.”
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton added that Kern “preyed upon and exploited some of our most vulnerable populations ... [leaving] thousands of veterans in financial ruin and scores of retiree-investors without adequate resources to retire.”
Kern faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for her role in the scheme. She is also expected to be ordered to pay restitution in a sum yet to be determined by the court.
The FBI, Veterans Benefits Administration’s Benefits Protection and Remediation Division and the Defense Finance Accounting Service all contributed to the investigation.
If you or anyone you know is 60 and over and has been victimized in a financial fraud scheme, call the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 1-833-372-8311. The office is open Monday-Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.