FAKE WAR HEROES
Over the last two years, the Stolen Valor Act has produced some 40 prosecutions. But even with the new threat of fines and imprisonment, phony veterans still want to call attention to themselves (By Tim Dyhouse) ( VFW Magazine, January, 2009)
The intent of the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 was to preserve the sanctity of the nation's highest military awards for valor. Before the law was enacted in late 2006, law enforcement officials had little recourse against those who claimed to be, for example, a Medal of Honor recipient. If exposed, the only punishment for the wannabes was public ridicule, embarrassment and humiliation. But that all changed when President Bush signed Public Law 109-437 on Dec. 20, 2006. It is now a federal crime to falsely claim, either "verbally or in writing:' to have received any badge or medal authorized by Congress. Those convicted can be imprisoned for up to one year and fined up to $100,000 for each offense.
According to FBI Special Agent Mike Sanborn, a 1991 Persian Gulf War veteran who served with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, there have been an estimated 40 prosecutions under the law. The first person charged and convicted under the Stolen Valor Act was Louis Lowell McGuinn of New York City. The FBI arrested him in April, 2007 after McGuinn, claiming to be an Army lieutenant colonel, was caught on camera wearing a Purple Heart, Silver Star and Distinguished Service Cross (DSC). McGuinn, who was discharged from the Army as a private in 1968, used the scheme to obtain jobs as a consultant to government-contracted security companies. He was sentenced in April 2008 to one year of probation and 100 hours of community service.
On the other side of the country; Michael Allan Fraser of Oroville, Calif. told the Oroville Mercury-Register in 2007 that he served in Vietnam as a Green Beret medic. He added that he earned two Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars after being shot while dangling beneath a helicopter 3,000 feet above the ground. While Fraser did serve in the military as a veterinary assistant in the Philippines, he was never in Vietnam, nor did he earn the military awards. In May 2008, Fraser was sentenced to 100 hours community service and ordered to pay a $500 fine. During sentencing, the judge said, "Those who do, do. And those who don't, talk about it."
Also, in the "Golden State," Xavier Alvarez of Pomona, Calif., was found guilty of violating the law in May 2008. As a member of the Claremont, Calif., water board in July 2007, Alvarez boasted that he received the Medal of Honor in 1987. Alvarez, who never served in the military, was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and was sentenced to three years probation and 400 hours of community service (once a week for a year) at the Lorna Linda VA Medical Center.
Like Alvarez, James Ticker of Slidell, La., never served a day in the military. But that didn't stop Ticker from trying to impress his new bride at their April 2008 wedding. He got in trouble when he donned a Navy captain's dress uniform decked out with a Navy Cross, Silver Star and Purple Heart. There was only one problem with the stunning ensemble. It included a Navy lieutenant commander's hat. Unfortunately for Ticker, someone in attendance knew their Navy ranks and turned him in. The 42-year-old Ticker pleaded guilty to violating the Stolen Valor Act and on Sept. 30, 2008, he was sentenced to one year of home confinement and a $500 fine.
A current unresolved Stolen Valor Act case in Texas has compelled that state's Department of Transportation (DoT) to launch an investigation into the validity of specialty license plates issued to those claiming valorous military awards. After a tip from Dick Agnew, a Korean War DSC recipient and North Dallas chapter commander of the Legion of Valor-an exclusive group open only to those who have earned the Medal of Honor, the DSC, Navy Cross or the Air Force Cross-the Texas DoT began to look closer at applications for the plates. Its investigation revealed that 14 of 67 Legion of Valor license plates were suspicious. As of August, 11 of those plates had been returned or cancelled.
Agnew earned his DSC for killing a North Korean sentry in hand-to-hand combat. He told The Dallas Morning News about the incident, in which a fellow soldier, Cpl. Gilbert Collier, was killed and earned a DSC posthumously. Agnew haltingly explained why the Stolen Valor Act is necessary. "When I think of him, and we're fighting together and I'm a bloody mess;' Agnew said. "When I think about the soldiers who have died for our country, it just bothers me."
FAKES LISTED IN WHO'S WHO
In October, the Chicago Tribune reported that a full third of the profiles listed in the online edition of Whos Who contained unsupported claims of military awards: Who's Who is a 109-year-old listing of biographical references of noteworthy individuals.
Of the 333 profiles that included claims for such awards as the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, Air Force Cross or Silver Star, 103 appear to be fraudulent. The newspaper also reviewed 273 obituaries published over the last decade that claimed the deceased had earned medals for bravery. It found that an astounding 80% were bogus.
The Tribune used military records to discover 84 phony Medals of Honor, 119 Distinguished Service Crosses, 99 Navy Crosses, five Air Force Crosses and 96 Silver Stars in the Whos Who listings and the obituaries.
A typical reason for lying-uttered by Michael Roshkind, a former senior executive at Motown Records who gave himself an unearned Navy Cross-was to make "myself a hero to my wife, or something like that."
When the Tribune asked him if he planned to correct his Who's Who biography, Rushkind said, "Why would I do that? I have no interest in that." .