updated 4/23/2010 5:25:49 PM ET 2010-04-23T21:25:49

An Army veteran who prosecutors say bilked the U.S. government by faking paralysis to get disability benefits and avoid being deployed to Iraq was sentenced Friday to 6 1/2 years in prison and ordered to repay more than $300,000.

Jeffrey Rush, 27, apologized at times tearfully to U.S. District Judge William Stiehl, who handed down the prison term prosecutors had requested.

"I hope you will use the time in prison to learn to conduct yourself in an honest way once you are out," Stiehl told Rush, who stood straight in his cream-colored suit, yellow shirt and striped tie.

Stiehl, who is 84 and has been a federal judge for nearly a quarter century, never told the man who dodged being dispatched to Iraq that he was a Navy veteran of World War II and the Korean War.

Afterward, Stiehl told The Associated Press that his own military past had no bearing on how he punished Rush, who pleaded guilty in November to two fraud conspiracy counts and one count apiece of mail fraud and making false statements to the Social Security Administration.

Rush asked Stiehl for lenience for his ex-wife, who has pleaded guilty in the scheme and is scheduled to be sentenced on Monday.

Authorities say the Rushes stuck to his bogus story that he had lost the use of his legs after a 2004 rollover crash, just weeks before his Army company from Kansas shipped off to Iraq without him.

As part of the scheme, court records show, Rush received $107,857 in benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs and $28,730 from the Social Security Administration.

Court documents and discussions offered no details on how Rush perpetuated the scheme.

The scam unraveled after the Rushes in 2005 sued Ford and the maker of the seat belts used in Rush's sport utility vehicle, blaming both companies for his purported paralysis and his wife's resulting "loss of consortium and conjugal relations." The Rushes went on to have a child in July 2006.

Stiehl agreed to a defense request that Rush be allowed to remain free on bond until ordered to report to federal prison.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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