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Former N.J. veterans official sentenced

A former New Jersey veterans affairs official was sentenced to five years' probation Friday for accepting benefits inflated by false records that exaggerated his military disability.

A former New Jersey veterans affairs official was sentenced to five years' probation Friday for accepting benefits inflated by false records that exaggerated his military disability.

Vietnam War veteran William Devereaux, 64, has acknowledged it was a "horrible mistake" to embellish his service record, but insists that his war experiences left him 100 percent disabled.

The Laurel Springs resident appeared in Superior Court in Camden, where Judge Irvin J. Snyder sentenced him to 30 days of house arrest and five years on probation.

Devereaux, who lost his job with the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs after his arrest, also was banned from working with veterans and holding public office.

"You're basically removing me from making a living," he told the judge. Devereaux is employed by the Haddonfield law firm Wolf & Brown and assists veterans applying for benefits.

"He's a caring person," said lawyer Philip Wolf. "He cares about veterans and how they're treated."

In November, Devereaux pleaded guilty to theft in a deal reached with prosecutors. The judge asked him during that hearing whether he understood that he would be barred from working with veterans for five years. He said he did.

On Friday, Devereaux stood in court dressed in a black sweatshirt bearing a patch for the Army's 82d Airborne Division, his unit in Vietnam, and said he had misunderstood. In addition to asking that the ban not be imposed, defense attorney Dennis Wixted requested that the judge lift the 30-day house arrest.

If Snyder was not inclined to do so, Wixted said, his client wished to withdraw his plea. Camden County Assistant Prosecutor Mark Chase objected to the last-minute maneuver, saying Devereaux simply had "buyer's remorse."

The judge agreed, noting that Devereaux had a previous drug conviction with a substantial jail sentence. Had the new charges been taken to a grand jury for indictment, he said, Devereaux might have faced up to 10 years in prison.

The restrictions on Deveraux's employment are substantial, Snyder said, "but they are not restrictions that will last forever."

Given the state of his health, Devereaux said, even five years could be a lifetime.

"I am under stress," he told the judge while apologizing for his mistakes. In addition to having had cancer, which he said was caused by exposure to Agent Orange, Deveraux said he was being treated for post-traumatic stress.

He told of a 4 1/2-month period in Vietnam in 1968 when he experienced a series of bloody combat episodes in which close friends were killed.

According to military records, Devereaux joined the Army in May 1967 and was honorably discharged in May 1970. Records show he was a payroll-distribution specialist in Vietnam for four months in 1968.

"There is no record of him ever seeing ground combat," said Jason Laughlin, spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office.

Authorities said Devereaux faked paperwork to show the military had found him 100 percent permanently disabled, which entitled him to property-tax exemptions.

He has since paid $54,142 in taxes owed to Laurel Springs for 2002 through 2008. Devereaux learned how to work the system while employed by the government, officials said.

He first worked for the Camden County Office of Veterans Affairs in 2001. In 2004, Gov. Jim McGreevey appointed him director of veterans programs. In that position, Devereaux helped soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

When he attended military functions, he wore a Purple Heart, a Soldier's Medal, and a Bronze Star - honors he never earned, officials said. He also received $34,000 in military benefits that federal authorities are reviewing, officials said.

Citing an "enormous need for deterrence," the judge refused to amend Devereaux's plea agreement on Friday and advised that he could file an appeal instead.