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Former veterans agency chief indicted for fraud, conflict, misuse of funds

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office announced on Nov. 19 that a former director of the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services has been indicted on eight felony charges, including counts of conflict of interest, fraud and misuse of public money.

Patrick Chorpenning was indicted by a Maricopa County grand jury on Nov. 18 following an investigation by the Arizona Auditor General’s Office and Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard that spanned two-and-a-half years, according to Goddard’s office.

Chorpenning, 62, who served as the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services director from 1999 to 2007, is accused of illegally authorizing the expenditure of more than $1 million of the department’s money during a five-year span that began in 2002.

The Vietnam veteran allegedly broke conflict-of-interest laws by hiring his son and failing to disclose the relationship. Chorpenning also is accused by the state auditor of directing department employees to hire and create a position for his wife.

Chorpenning’s son, who also is named Patrick, and his wife Cornelia Chorpenning reportedly received approximately $330,000 in salary from the department. Chorpenning also misappropriated $670,000 for media services, a war memorial and employee-related and corporate gifts, according to the state auditor.

The elder Chorpenning has been charged with four counts of conflict of interest, two counts of misuse of public money, one count of fraud and one count of violating state procurement code. All of the charges are felonies.

The auditor general’s report shows Chorpenning’s son was first hired as an assistant administrator for the Arizona State Veterans Home, and that Chorpenning later ordered that his son be employed as a senior administrator and liaison charged with assisting veterans’ educational needs at Arizona State University.

Chorpenning is also accused of directing staff to hire his wife’s firm to redecorate the veterans’ nursing home. The order was refused by department employees, a move the director allegedly sidestepped by simply creating another department position and hiring his wife.

Portions of salaries for Chorpenning’s son and wife and employer-expenses were found by the Auditor General’s Office to have totaled at least $787,000 from 2004 to 2007 and were financed through the Veterans’ Home Fund.

During the same period, Chorpenning directed the nursing home’s administrator to reduce spending on operations, including food and dietary staffing. He also limited staff overtime. Additional purchases of equipment also were prohibited, according to the auditor general.

Attempts to locate Chorpenning for comment were unsuccessful. A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office said it is not known if Chorpenning has hired an attorney. An arraignment has been scheduled for Dec. 2.

Chorpenning stepped down as director of the department in March 2007 after being stripped of responsibility of overseeing the Arizona State Veterans Home by then-Gov. Janet Napolitano.

The home was fined by the Arizona Department of Health Services after state inspectors concluded the home’s conditions left veterans in “immediate jeopardy” during a February 2007 inspection.

Violations included a failure of staff to respond to residents’ calls in a timely manner, failure to deal with unsafe smoking and other dangerous circumstances and failure to provide necessary care, according to the Health Department.

Chorpenning later defended himself before a legislative committee by calling the problems overblown.

The former Marine, who is disabled from battle injuries, blamed his high-profile demotion on the media, lawmakers and Napolitano, who he argued unfairly compared the veterans’ home conditions to widely reported but unrelated problems military personnel encountered at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

“It was a feeding frenzy and my one-legged butt went under the train, and I don’t appreciate it,” Chorpenning was quoted as saying.

Goddard spokeswoman Anne Hilby said the investigation was prompted by information that surfaced after Chorpenning’s March 2007 resignation, but she would not reveal specific information.

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