Wounded veteran awaiting trial in health care fraud case dies in federal custody

Justin Perez-Gorda, 33, died Jan. 29 at a medical center for federal prisoners in Missouri

FILE - In this July 6, 2020, photo, a sign for the Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Prisons is displayed at the Metropolitan Detention Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File) (Mark Lennihan, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Springfield, Missouri – An Army veteran who was scheduled to go to trial in San Antonio later this year for health care fraud has died while in federal custody, officials confirmed Tuesday.

Justin Perez-Gorda, 33, died Jan. 29 while being treated at a medical center for federal prisoners in Springfield, Missouri, a spokesperson for the Federal Bureau of Prisons said via email.

Additional details on Perez-Gorda’s death were not released, due to safety and privacy concerns, said the spokesperson, who added that a medical examiner would determine the inmate’s cause of death.

Perez-Gorda was charged by federal investigators in late 2017 on a swath of allegations including wire fraud, health care fraud, making false statements related to health care matters and conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

It was first discovered in 2015 that Perez-Gorda and his then-wife, Josephine-Perez-Gorda, had embellished the severity of his injuries publicly, years after Perez-Gorda was injured while serving in Afghanistan.

While the couple claimed that Justin Perez-Gorda was paralyzed from the belly button down and no longer could use his lower extremities, footage of him recorded outside the couple’s donated specially-adapted home in Hays County showed him walking.

Federal prosecutors wrote in charging paperwork in 2017 that the couple had falsely represented to physicians that Justin Perez-Gorda’s injuries had significantly reduced his mobility.

Justin Perez-Gorda, who was released on bond shortly after being charged federally, had been back in custody since last year, after violating the conditions of his pretrial release.

Justin Perez-Gorda, who was ordered to take part in counseling services in Arizona, showed signs of degrading mental health and was not taking part in the sessions consistently, federal court records show.

He was eventually taken back into custody in Arizona in May, records show.

A hearing to determine Justin Perez-Gorda’s competency was canceled in early June, records show.

“My client was a veteran and his death in pretrial custody is heartbreaking,” attorney Molly Roth said via email Tuesday.

Josephine Perez-Gorda, who was also charged federally in late 2017 with 15 counts tied to the alleged fraud scheme, is currently scheduled to go to trial in early April, court records show.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment Tuesday.

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About the Author:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.