Following two mistrials, a second retrial began Monday in the case of Charles Coughlin, a U.S. naval officer accused of submitting false claims to a September 11 victims' fund.
Coughlin, who was working at the Pentagon when the hijacked plane crashed into the building on September 11, is accused of submitting misleading and false medical information and other fraudulent documents to the Victim Compensation Fund set up by Congress shortly after the attacks.
He was indicted in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in October 2008, along with his wife, Sabrina Coughlin, on five counts of mail fraud, one count of submitting a fraudulent claim and one count of theft of public money. He received $331,034 from the fund, according to the indictment (PDF).
The two stood trial starting in March 2009 and were acquitted of three counts of mail fraud, but the jury was hung (PDF) on the remaining charges. U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy Jr. declared a mistrial in April 2009 and scheduled a retrial for June of that year. The government dismissed the charges against Sabrina Coughlin.
Soon after, Charles Coughlin moved to bar a new trial against him, arguing that a retrial on charges similar to the ones he was acquitted of was barred by double jeopardy. Kennedy denied the motion. As the retrial began, Coughlin appealed Kennedy’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The retrial was stayed pending a decision by the appeals court.
In a September 2010 opinion (PDF), the appellate judges sided with Coughlin in barring a retrial on the remaining mail fraud charges, but ordered a retrial on the charges of making a fraudulent claim and theft of public money. Kennedy declared a mistrial in the first retrial and scheduled new proceedings.
Jury selection began Monday morning and continued after the lunch break. Coughlin is being represented by Amy Askew and John Bourgeois of Baltimore’s Kramon & Graham. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jonathan Haray and Susan Menzer are prosecuting the case.
According to the indictment, Coughlin made a claim for damages with the Victim Compensation Fund in December 2003. Prosecutors alleged that Coughlin submitted claims for a neck injury that actually dated to 1998, falsely stated that medical records didn’t exist that would have shown the extent of pre-existing neck and shoulder problems, and made false statements about being forced to lead a sedentary lifestyle because of his injuries.
According to the indictment, Coughlin rejected an early offer of $60,000 from the fund, claiming it was too small. He was awarded $331,034 in damages in June 2004.