A veteran who spread a false story blaming White House immigration policies for harming homeless veterans was charged with stolen valor and fraud this week after months of investigation into her charity work by the FBI.

Sharon Toney-Finch, 43, founder of the Yerik Israel Toney Foundation in New York and an Army veteran, was charged by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York on Wednesday with multiple counts of fraud. She could face more than 30 years in prison if convicted of all the charges.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said that Toney-Finch “falsely claimed to have received a military award bestowed on those wounded or killed in the line of duty, and she used this lie to drive donations to her charitable organization, which in fact was a ruse the defendant allegedly used to line her own pockets.

“The defendant’s alleged crimes are dishonorable to the highest degree.”

Toney-Finch came under national scrutiny in May 2023 after her organization claimed that 20 homeless veterans under its care had been kicked out of a Newburgh, New York, hotel to make room for incoming migrants being housed through county funding.

New York state lawmakers introduced legislation to stop the evictions. But as the story gained national attention, hotel officials said they had no record of the veterans in question, and Veterans Affairs officials said they had no record of any direct work with the charity.

Within a few days, New York State Assemblyman Brian Maher said that Toney-Finch had admitted to making up the story. He called for a full investigation into the charity, eventually prompting the fraud charges.

Officials from the U.S. attorney’s office said that Toney-Finch spent funds raised by her charity on personal expenses and falsely claimed to have survived a terrorist attack in Iraq in 2010, earning her a Purple Heart. They also said she falsified her military discharge paperwork to support her fake biography.

Since 2016, Toney-Finch had been collecting “hundreds of thousands of dollars in disability benefits” based on those false claims.

“Acts of stolen valor are especially egregious as they distract from sacrifices of those who were truly injured defending our nation,” FBI Assistant Director in Charge James Smith said in a statement.

Toney-Finch declined comment on the fake homeless veterans story last year and could not be reached for comment on the new criminal charges.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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