PROVIDENCE — A former Brockton, Mass., police officer who served time for shaking down motorists to support his drug habit is now accused of trying to extort money from veterans while working at the regional Veterans Benefits Administration office in Providence.
Army veteran Michael J. Darrah, 45, was arrested by federal agents Thursday morning at his home in Taunton, Mass., after an investigation into allegations that he had sought bribes and extorted money from Rhode Island veterans who needed help accessing their benefits.
A federal grand jury returned a secret indictment charging Darrah with six felonies, including soliciting and receiving bribes from three veterans and a veteran’s mother, receiving a gratuity exceeding $5,000, extortion, and witness tampering, for allegedly trying to persuade a veteran not to cooperate with law enforcement.
Darrah pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in US District Court Thursday afternoon. US Magistrate Lincoln Almond released Darrah on $10,000 unsecured bond, ordered him not to have contact with the alleged victims and witnesses in the case, and to remain in treatment at the VA in Brockton, where Darrah gets mental health care.
Darrah had worked for years at the VA as a veterans affairs representative and also worked with homeless veterans in Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts. A spokeswoman for the regional VA did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday afternoon.
Darrah joined the Brockton Police Department in 2004 after serving in the Army, and he was fired five years later, after an internal investigation into allegations that he was stealing from motorists, many of whom spoke little or no English. As reported in The Brockton Enterprise in 2010, the police said that Darrah was stopping drivers and allegedly telling them he could either arrest them or write them a ticket for offenses the witnesses said were false.
A few months later, Darrah was indicted on state charges of larceny and extortion by a police officer.
Darrah talked about his experiences during a 2018 podcast about addiction, “Rock Bottom 2 Recovery.” He said he started drinking and using drugs when he was 13, and talked about drinking when he joined the Army and while at the Brockton Police Department. He claimed the drinking and drug use weren’t a problem for him until he was on the police force and getting benzodiazepines for mental health treatment. Then, he said, he got into Percocet, buying the pills illegally, sniffing and shooting up.
Darrah said on the podcast that he started taking money from drug dealers he pulled over. “They have $20,000 and you take 20 bucks, 30 bucks, and nothing was said,” he recalled. Darrah told the podcast host that he had 15 indictments for five different victims.
“I ruined my career for probably less than a thousand dollars,” Darrah said on the podcast. He justified his actions at the time by noting that he was taking money from drug dealers, but “When I lost my job, they made it look like I was taking from mom and pop stores, or these great families, they made me look like a monster.”
Darrah received a suspended sentence and community corrections service, but he went back to using drugs and violated his sentence. He said he was released on parole, but overdosed. He said he was out on a GPS bracelet and got in trouble for stealing things. Finally, a judge recommended him for veterans court in Dedham, Mass., Darrah said. He got treatment and started working at the VA in Brockton, Mass., “sweeping floors,” he said, and began to do better.
Darrah said a friend who worked at the VA in Providence invited him to come work for him. “I didn’t know I was going to work at the federal building,” Darrah said. He became a veterans service representative and homeless coordinator, working with homeless veterans and addicts. He said he was referring them for help, and getting disability claims pushed further along. “I’ve been helping people ever since. I’m very good at doing outreach,” Darrah said on the podcast.
However, Assistant US Attorney Ly T. Chin said Darrah’s help came with a price.
Chin described the allegations during Darrah’s arraignment. According to Chin and the indictment, which was unsealed Thursday, one veteran told investigators that Darrah wanted gift cards to “grease the palms” of other employees to help move along a claim for disability benefits — that came to about $3,385. A second veteran paid Darrah $16,566 to expedite and approve his claim for disability payments. The mother of another veteran who needed help expediting his payments paid Darrah $2,700 at his request. A veteran facing foreclosure was asked to pay a “gratuity” of $5,000 for Darrah to get other VA employees to expedite his claims.
The total amount came to about $26,000, Chin said.
After federal agents searched Darrah’s home on March 30, Chin said, Darrah’s wife told police she was worried he was going to hurt himself. Darrah sped off in his car, later bragging that he was speeding 100 miles an hour while high, and plowed into the building of a garden center, the prosecutor said.
“He could have hurt someone. He could have killed someone,” Chin said.
After the search, some of the veterans refused to speak to law enforcement. One said that Darrah had asked him to say that the money he’d paid was a loan, she said.
As Darrah listened to the allegations, Chin told the judge, “This is his second [criminal] case of being in a position of public trust.”