CHARLESTON — Richard Ojeda, a former Democratic state senator, says his medical records were stolen from a Veterans Affairs office in Huntington and used to derail his congressional campaign in 2018.
On Thursday, Ojeda, who served in the U.S. Army for 24 years, filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to force the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to release its investigation. He says the records will identify a laundry list of area Republican officials who played a hand in spreading private information to torpedo his race.
Federal prosecutors say that around May 17, Jeffrey S. Miller, then a claims assistant at the Veterans Benefits Administration, took a photo of medical records belonging to “Person F” — a public figure — and then sent that picture to “another individual known to the United States Attorney.”
This was just days after Ojeda decisively won his Democratic congressional primary.
In the lawsuit, Ojeda identifies himself as the anonymous victim in the Jeffrey Miller case and alleges that several high-ranking Republicans received his medical records, with the intent to use them against him in his general election run against now-Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va.
“(Ojeda is) certain that the names included in the report of this investigation will prove a concerted effort to undermine his candidacy and forever damage his reputation,” the lawsuit states.
Matthew Donnellan worked on Carol Miller’s campaign and is now her chief of staff. He said there is no familial relationship between Carol Miller and Jeffrey Miller.
He said the congresswoman was unaware of Ojeda’s lawsuit and Jeffrey Miller’s criminal case until a reporter alerted them to it. Also, he said, neither Carol Miller nor anyone else on the campaign received any medical information about Ojeda.
“Whatever is happening,” Donnellan said, “it’s a world that we’re removed from.”
A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart would not comment on the veracity of Ojeda’s claims or the decision to withhold anyone’s identity.
Prosecutors filed an information against Jeffrey Miller, which is a way of pressing charges that indicates a suspect is cooperating with prosecutors. He is scheduled to attend a plea hearing Sept. 3.
Ojeda’s lawsuit states that, without the records, he will be unable to effectively deliver a victim statement at Jeffrey Miller’s plea hearing because he won’t know the full ramifications of the disclosure.
“What do I speak about? I don’t know the details of what this guy did to me,” Ojeda said in an interview.
It is unclear what medical information about Ojeda, who became a major in the Army, allegedly was taken and shared.
In his interview, Ojeda speculated that his diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries were used against him. He said he went on four deployments, three of which were to combat zones. He also said he assisted after the deadly 2010 earthquakes in Haiti.
“These people don’t give a s--t about veterans,” he said of any Republican who allegedly spread his personal information. “They only like veterans when it supports their cause.”
‘Stone cold crazy’
While the congressional district went strongly for President Donald Trump in 2016, Ojeda’s political star rose thanks to national attention to the race (a Politico article called him “JFK with tattoos and a bench press”) and his knack for large fundraising hauls driven by small donations.
He hitched his campaign to a political revival of labor union strength in the wake of the 2018 statewide teacher strike and sought to channel that momentum into flipping a red seat blue.
In July, Ojeda polled narrowly ahead of Carol Miller, albeit within the margin of error. By October, he had lost his polling lead but maintained a robust fundraising operation.
However, Trump dipped into the race repeatedly in support of Carol Miller.
“She’s running against a total whacko,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Charleston. “No, I’ve seen this person; you can’t have that person in Congress. That person is stone cold crazy.”
Carol Miller repackaged the “stone cold” line into political ads. Another Miller spot accused Ojeda of dishonoring veterans and “stepping on the graves of every dead soldier.”
Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara, stumped for Miller as well, just days before the election.
While Democrats wrested control of the House of Representatives from Republicans, Miller ultimately trounced Ojeda by about 12 points.
After a fiery rebuke of Trump’s politics in a concession speech, Ojeda went on to announce a presidential run, leading him to vacate his state Senate seat. Shortly thereafter, though, he abandoned the presidential bid.
Reach Jake Zuckerman at email@example.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @jake_zuckerman on Twitter.