A retired naval officer honored for heroism during the September 11th attack on the Pentagon was found guilty Monday for committing fraud against the 9/11 victim's compensation to the tune of some $330,000. Cmdr. Charles Coughlin of Severna Park, Md., is accused of exaggerating his injuries from when he ran back inside the burning Pentagon to help rescue others.
He had a top-secret security clearance and commanded nuclear submarines and was working at the Pentagon when a plane hijacked by terrorists crashed into the building about 75 feet from his office.
Coughlin was actually awarded the Meritorious Service Medal and Purple Heart for his actions and injuries from that day. The money he was awarded came from the fund set up by Congress after the 2001 attacks.
Coughlin told the court he was in constant pain after being injured twice on Sept. 11, 2001, according to Navy records.
When it came time for Coughlin to give an account of what happened on 9/11, he told the court "objects fell on me when a hijacked plane struck the building and later when I went back inside to rescue others, I hit my head."
Coughlin’s claim to the victims’ compensation fund said he was left with constant pain in his neck, headaches, weakness in his left arm and numbness in his left hand and elbow.
Prosecutors said Coughlin, now 52, continued to play lacrosse and ran a marathon after the attacks and allegedly lied when he claimed he needed surgery.
“The case was not a slam-dunk for prosecutors: It took three trials to convict him,” prosecutors said. “Coughlin was first tried in 2009 along with his wife, who was also accused of making a false claim to the fund in support of her husband.”
“After that case, jurors said they thought Coughlin was the kind of man who would exercise through pain and seemed credible when testifying that he didn’t lie,” according to Navy court records.
Prosecutors dropped the case against Sabrina Coughlin but put Charles Coughlin on trial again a few months later on the remaining four counts.
In the midst of that trial, a Supreme Court decision changed the standard for retrying defendants after a hung jury, eliminating two remaining mail fraud counts against Coughlin. This time he was tried on the remaining two counts, which were the most serious against him.
Coughlin bowed his head and pursed his lips as the guilty verdict was read from the jury today, Navy officials said.
Coughlin is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and Harvard Business School and spent most of his 21-year naval career in the submarine service.
The charges against him carry maximum penalties of up to 15 years in prison. Prosecutors say they expect to argue for three to four years based on his lack of a criminal record and the nature of the offense.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth is scheduled to sentence Coughlin on Nov. 21.
Navy officials say the government has a civil case pending against the Coughlin, which they could potentially be fined up to the three times the amount of their award from the fund.