Man with Packers-themed bar in Costa Rica disputes VA fraud charge
By BRUCE VIELMETTI | The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Tribune News Service) | Published: December 1, 2017
MILWAUKEE — A Wisconsin man living in Costa Rica, where he owned part of a popular bar and grill, said Thursday he was shocked to learn in a news story that he had been indicted on federal charges of defrauding the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Daniel Kososki, 53, said he had spent the summer working with VA reps in Wisconsin to address an overpayment he said was some kind of mistake or miscalculation that he was appealing administratively.
He said no one ever mentioned any possible criminal liability. He said he felt a Journal Sentinel story about his indictment unfairly portrayed him and "made my mother cry" when she read it in Appleton.
Now he's getting a lawyer before his scheduled appearance on the charges in Milwaukee federal court next month.
"I'm fighting this," Kososki said during a phone interview Thursday from Costa Rica. "I can legally say I died for my country. I never once tried to steal" from the VA.
That statement, he said, is a reference to an incident when he was stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army's 3rd Armored Division in 1985. Kososki said he was in a 100-mph crash on the Autobahn with two other soldiers returning from an event in uniform. The crash killed the driver, he said, and left him in a coma for three months, during which he said he "coded" seven times but was brought back with electric shocks.
Later, he said, he was transferred to military hospitals in Illinois, Washington, D.C, and Germany for about 18 months. He said he suffered myriad internal injuries, dental trauma, head trauma and has plates in his legs, plus 22 screws. He said he turned down medical discharges three times.
"I was brought up in Wisconsin, you know?" he said. "I was taught you bust your ass, work hard and don’t take no for an answer."
Eventually, he was sent to a base in Washington state where he was on telephone duty a few months before he was honorably discharged in 1987 and moved to Las Vegas for a time before returning to Appleton, his hometown.
He worked in investments and for the U.S. Postal Service in the 1990s and early 2000s. In 2006 he applied for Individual Unemployability, a VA program that pays veterans as if they were 100% disabled when their service-related conditions prevent them from working. It was granted, retroactive to 2004.
He said his VA rep persuaded him to get IU, which Kososki said took him from 90% to 100% disabled and raised his monthly benefit.
"I never put in for the IU — they gave it to me," Kososki said. "To this day I don’t know what it means," regarding what kind and how much work a recipient can do.
He said he was told he'd have to repay $154,000 — the value of 12 years' worth of the increased benefit — through monthly deductions from his existing VA benefit of about $1,800 a month.
The indictment charges that Kososki lied about his inability to work, citing tax returns from an investment firm and his active management of Coconutz, a bar in Playas del Coco, Costa Rica, that Kososki and a partner purchased in 2008 or 2009.
Kososki said he owned a 10% share in Coconutz but never worked a day there.
"We had a general manager, a bar manager, a restaurant manager," he said. "What would they need me for?"
Because he lives there half the year, he said, he often checked in on the business but sold his share over the summer for about the $20,000 he originally invested. He told a reporter in a 2014 radio report that the bar was popular with Packers fans and is quoted calling it the only Packers bar south of Mexico.
"I was like Cliff at Cheers," he said. "I stop in once a while."
From May to November he lives in Fremont, he said, and had just left for the winter after Wisconsin's deer season.
He said he still suffers from debilitating headaches and can't work full time.
"For me to be on disability sucks," he said. "When I do feel good, I want to do something."
He said if people see him smiling at Coconutz a couple of times a week, that's the only time they see him, not when he's depressed and anxious in his home with all the shades down.
"The friends I do have know I have a disability," he said. "I don't go around talking about it to everyone else, because who the (expletive) wants to know?"
Federal prosecutors declined to respond to Kososki's comments.
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