Aynor residents plead guilty in federal court to defrauding government

troot@thesunnews.comMarch 11, 2014 

Three Aynor residents pleaded guilty in federal court to defrauding the government of veteran’s benefits and in purchasing guns, according to authorities.

Steven Mickey Bunker, 47, of Aynor and Shannon, N.C., pleaded guilty to theft of government property and conspiracy to make false statements to federally licensed firearms dealers when purchasing firearms, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Bunker’s stepfather, Thomas Leon Martin, 66, and Bunker’s mother, Betty Jean Martin, 74, both of Aynor also each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to make false statements to federally licensed firearms dealers when purchasing firearms before U.S. District Judge R. Bryan Harwell of Florence, who will sentence the trio after receiving a presentence report from the U.S. Probation Office.

Federal officials began investigating Bunker after a story in The Sun News was published in which Bunker said he was injured while serving in the military in Iraq, according to the news release. After the story was published, officials with the Department of Veterans Affairs were notified because the newspaper received so much negative feedback indicating that Bunker had made false statements concerning his injuries.

At the time, Bunker was receiving veteran’s disability because he claimed that he was paralyzed and unable to walk, drive, eat or otherwise take care of himself without assistance, according to the release. Bunker’s disability included payment for others to take care of Bunker at his home.

Bunker also received more than $40,000 to purchase a vehicle to be driven by someone without the use of their legs which officials said Bunker traded for a Hummer. The investigation revealed that Bunker was able to walk, drive and take care of himself.

As a result of Bunker’s false claims he had received more than $159,000 in veteran’s benefits, according to the release. During the investigation, officials discovered that Bunker had failed to register as a sex offender after previously being convicted for a lewd act or attempted lewd act upon a minor.

Investigators also learned that Thomas Martin and Betty Martin had helped Bunker purchase 23 firearms by lying on ATF forms when purchasing them, according to the release. Thomas and Betty Martin purchased the firearms by stating on the ATF forms that they were purchasing the firearms for themselves, but the purchases were made for Bunker, who picked out and paid for the firearms.

Bunker was not permitted to purchase firearms because of his prior felony conviction.

Bunker faces up to a $250,000 fine and/or 15 years in jail, plus a special assessment of $100.

Contact TONYA ROOT at 444-1723 or follow her at Twitter.com/tonyaroot.

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