Marine faces 21 years for using Casey Owens’ story for financial gain

Casey Owens

The tragic story of Casey Owens is one familiar to numerous Aspen residents who came to know him while he lived here. It also was used by a fellow Marine to reap financial benefits who now faces as many as 21 years in prison for the crime.

Brandon Ryan Blackstone will be sentenced in February for fraud-related charges that enabled him to get a home and collect benefits for nearly a decade.

Blackstone recently confessed to capitalizing on Owens’ story for his own gain.

Owens’ “heavy burden”

Both of Owens’ legs were amputated after his Humveee struck a land mine when it was on a rescue mission in Baghdad on Sept. 20, 2004.

Owens, a Houston transplant who also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, worked with Challenge Aspen and was a paralympic athlete.

On Oct. 15, 2014, the Purple Heart medal recipient took his life in Aspen. He was 32.

“I only got to know him for the past three months as a patient, but during that short time, I really was tremendously impressed with his determination, positive attitude and personality,” said Dr. Robert Jensen in a letter to The Aspen Times days after his death. “Casey carried a heavy burden from his war injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. No young man or woman should have to do so.”

Owens was remembered at a local observance of the U.S. Marine Corps’ 239th birthday in November 2013 at Aspen Grove Cemetery.

“Casey had it together for a while after the war,” said Bob Bogner, who served in the Marine Corps, at the service. “But you could see Casey going downhill, and the valley did everything it could to support him.”

Marine charged for using Owens’ story

Nearly two years after his death, a Marine who didn’t earn a Purple Heart recently admitted to parlaying Owens’ war heroics into his own.

In an agreement with federal prosecutors in the Northern District of Texas on Sept. 15, Blackstone, an Arlington, Texas, resident, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and fraudulent representation about the receipt of a military decoration for financial gain.

“While in Iraq, Blackstone never occupied the vehicle which struck an anti-tank mine,” U.S. Attorney John R. Parker asserted in court documents. “Nor was he ever awarded the Purple Heart Medal.”

Blackstone served in the Marines from 2004 to 2006, and was deployed to Iraq in 2004, court documents show. He also was in the same unit as Owens and he was close to the Humvee explosion that maimed Owens, according to a report by WFAA, an ABC affiliate in Dallas.

Blackstone will be sentenced in February and faces as many as 21 years in prison for his scam, which enabled him to reap numerous benefits.

“Due to these false representations, Blackstone received a mortgage-free residence in Fort Worth, Texas, from (Military Warrior Support Foundation) in November 2012,” court documents state.

He also received disability checks for nearly a decade from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Blackstone devised and operated a scheme to defraud the VA and to obtain money by means of false and fraudulent material pretenses and representations,” the charging document said.

Owens’ mother, however, told The Aspen Times on Wednesday she is seeking no vengeance against Blackstone.

“I don’t think this young man targeted Casey or his family,” Janna Dunkel said. “I think it was a convenient, familiar story for him to allow him to go on with his life. What he suffered, what happened to him — I don’t know why he did this. The question is: How was he able to get away with this? How did he get benefits? I know personally how hard it is to get benefits from the VA or the government.”

Dunkel said she hasn’t attended any of Blackstone’s court hearings and she has no plans to be at his sentencing hearing.

“I would probably feel differently if he was doing something to Casey,” she said. “This was just readily available information and he just used it. I don’t think he was after Casey or had any intention of hurting Casey.”

The maximum prison term of 21 years for Blackstone appeared to baffle Dunkel.

“It’s amazing to me that people get to prison for this long when you look at what people do that are so illegal and so bad and so destructive,” she said, using Hillary Clinton as an example of someone she believes got off scot-free for crimes she allegedly committed. “He broke the law and he took the benefits he wasn’t entitled to, but the fact that the man could go to prison for 21 years and you look at what other people get away with.”