The rise & fall of fakers
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    Exclamation The rise & fall of fakers

    The rise & fall of fakers
    More people are embellishing their records, but the Stolen Valor Act helps punish them to the fullest
    By John Hoellwarth and Michael Hoffman - jhoellwarth@militarytimes.com and mhoffman@militarytimes.com
    Posted : September 17, 2007

    As he watched former Marine Preston Garris stand before the North Carolina General Assembly and receive accolades from state lawmakers at a ceremony for Silver Star recipients, former Marine Bill Carr decided he couldn’t keep quiet anymore.

    Shortly after the ceremony, in July 2005, Carr and former Army combat medic Mike Burris told FBI officials that Marine discharge documents existed that called into question Garris’ retired rank and his Silver Star. Garris was a representative on the North Carolina Veterans Affairs Commission at the time.

    “All the senators came over and shook his hand and hugged his neck, and that’s when I said this is enough,” said Carr, the chaplain for the North Carolina Order of the Purple Heart. “I didn’t want to see him represent all these guys that actually earned those awards.”

    After receiving the tip, the FBI launched an investigation into Garris’ record, said Greg Baker, an agent in the FBI’s Raleigh and Greenville, N.C., office. Garris has since stepped down from the commission.

    Before receiving his appointment on the commission, Garris had produced documents for Department of Veterans Affairs officials stating he retired as a first lieutenant and earned a Silver Star — the nation’s third-highest medal for combat valor — and a Purple Heart with one Gold Star, said Charlie Smith, assistant secretary of the North Carolina Division of Veterans Affairs.

    But Garris actually got out as a staff sergeant, said Maj. Jay Delarosa, a spokesman at Marine Corps headquarters. At press time, headquarters was still trying to confirm his Silver Star.

    Doug Sterner, a private citizen who maintains a database of Silver Star recipients that is used by the FBI to check on allegations of false claims, said he could not find Garris on his list. Sterner claims his Silver Star list covers 95 percent of all Silver Star recipients.

    Garris, when contacted, said he had no comment.

    FBI officials recently handed their findings over to the Justice Department, Baker said, but no charges have been filed. The Justice Department would not comment on if or when charges would be filed.

    It’s not unheard of for Marines to embellish their service after leaving active duty or for civilians who’ve never served to pass themselves off as Marines. It’s happening all over the country this very minute.

    But legislation signed into law last December draws the line at military awards, making it illegal to wear unearned decorations, hang them on an office wall, list them on a r�sum� or even lie about them in a bar. It’s called the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, and it’s allowing law enforcement agencies to go after phonies they previously couldn’t touch. That’s because under the old law, the faker had to physically wear an award before a crime had been committed.

    President Bush’s signature on the law finally gave teeth to those who work to expose frauds. But at the outset of this new war on fakers, it seems the “enemy” is changing tactics.

    The good-old-fashioned phony Navy Cross recipient who also wears his four Silver Stars, seven Bronze Stars, nine Purple Hearts and single Combat Action Ribbon in public on Memorial Day is still out there. But a new, less over-the-top group of frauds seems to be popping up more frequently.

    Posers, in other words, are getting less ambitious. Among the dozen or so cases that have popped up so far this year — including five recent ones in this week’s issue — some are merely claiming to be a Marine, without all the battlefield exploits and mounds of chest candy. Those who do claim valor among their traits aren’t shooting for the Medal of Honor or service crosses. Fake Silver Star cases seem to be en vogue, as are phony Purple Hearts.

    Upon returning to his home town of Topeka, Kan., after leaving active duty in January, former Sgt. Tim Debusk gave the Department of Motor Vehicles a phony Purple Heart citation, like the ones available for less than $30 on the Web.

    Legitimate recipients and suspicious veterans in his community turned Debusk in to authorities. He was arrested in May on state charges of dealing in false official documents. At the preliminary hearing Sept. 7 whre Debusk pleaded guilty to “dealing in false identification” and “making false information,” 10 Purple Heart veterans from World War II to the Iraq War lined the courtroom.

    He may still face federal charges under the Stolen Valor Act for portraying himself as a Purple Heart recipient despite having never physically worn the medal, said Jim Mummey, a detective with the Shawnee County, Kan., Sheriff’s Department.

    That charge would carry a maximum penalty of up to one year in prison and a $10,000 fine under the new law, which doubles the penalty for making false claim to decorations that can only be earned in combat. Without the Stolen Valor Act, the charges against Debusk would have ended at the local level.

    “There is nothing new about the crime of wearing medals and the uniform that you have not earned, but with the Stolen Valor Act, it’s certainly increased the penalties,” said Ron Friedman, assistant U.S. attorney for the western district of Washington state. “A lot of people are doing it, but at the same time, more people are looking for it, and this helps the public know that if they bring you this information, we’ll act on it. It really generates its own momentum.”

    Right now in Washington, badge-carrying federal agents with the Department of Veterans Affairs are launching an offensive on fakers aimed at curtailing those who might not be claiming unearned awards, but are lying about their service and pencil-whipping their discharge papers to rate lucrative medical and disability benefits from the VA.

    James O’Neill, assistant inspector general for the VA’s office of investigations, said instances of fakers bilking the VA are on the rise.

    “We have seen an increase in the number of fakers during a time of war in the past, and the upward trend we’ve seen now is consistent with that,” he said. “It’s sometimes a mix of different motivations, but it usually comes down to health care benefits. Other times, it’s a matter of bolstering their own credibility or political gain. It comes down to financial reasons or self-aggrandizement.”

    There are 50 ongoing investigations into alleged violations of the Stolen Valor Act, according to a Sept. 7 report on National Public Radio.

    And the growing backlash against fakers isn’t limited to those who are committing crimes. Former Lance Cpl. Glenn Marshall, 57, of Mashpee, Mass., hasn’t broken the law under the Stolen Valor Act, but was forced to step down as leader of the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian tribe after embellishments about his service in Vietnam were exposed by newspapers in Cape Cod, Mass., and New London, Conn.

    Marshall never claimed unearned awards, but during his push to gain federal recognition for his tribe, he publicly touted himself as “a hero of Khe Sanh” to reporters, politicians and government officials.

    His high school transcripts and military records confirm Marshall wasn’t yet in the Corps when Marines fought their first large-scale urban battle there in 1968.

    In a 2003 letter to the Interior Department’s assistant secretary of Indian affairs endorsing federal recognition for the Wampanoag tribe, Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., cited Marshall’s purported heroism in Khe Sanh.

    “We feel as much a victim as anyone else that Mr. Marshall misrepresented his service to us and misrepresented his service to the country,” said Doolittle’s spokesman Gordon Hinkle. “The congressman is as sad as anyone, but we don’t think that should take away from those who served the country as a member of the Wampanoag tribe.”

    Maurice Foxx, chairman of the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs, is also a member of the Wampanoag tribe. Only days after Marshall made a public apology, Foxx himself faced questions about the Marine Corps service listed on every official biography of him posted to the state agency’s Web site since 2000.

    According to the biographies, which have since been changed, Foxx receive a mechanical engineering degree “after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.”

    A spokesman for the Corps’ Manpower branch confirmed no one name Maurice Foxx has earned the title Marine. As of Sept. 7, he was still head of the commission.

    Though Friedman said the Stolen Valor Act has given law enforcement officials “the tools they need” to prosecute phonies by including language so broad that “even making false oral claims can be actionable,” cases such as those of Marshall and Foxx illustrate the leeway fakers still have under the law.

    Anecdotal evidence suggests that instances of posers getting popped for perpetrating service fraud are up this year from last, but it remains unclear exactly what role the passage of the Stolen Valor Act has played in that because “we don’t have the data yet,” said Mark Motivanz, a statistician with the Justice Department who tracks how many cases are prosecuted each year under federal laws.

    “There’s a lag time in the data we get,” he said. “We probably won’t have those stats until December.”

    Ellie


  2. #2
    5 NEWLY EXPOSED FAKERS
    -
    Posted : September 17, 2007

    1. Name: Former Staff Sgt. Preston Garris

    From: La Grange, N.C.

    The lie: In order to be appointed to the Veterans Affairs Commission in North Carolina, Garris, in 2005, produced a DD 214 for the Department of Veterans Affairs stating he retired as a first lieutenant and earned a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts during the Vietnam War, said Charlie Smith, assistant secretary of the North Carolina Division of Veterans Affairs.


    The reality: His real DD 214 provided by the Marine Corps states he got out of the Corps as a staff sergeant. One Purple Heart he earned after a portion of his leg was amputated due to a wound he sustained in the Vietnam War is not disputed. At press time, the Marine Corps was still trying to find records of his Silver Star and the second Purple Heart. Doug Sterner, who maintains a database of Silver Star recipients and is frequently contacted by the FBI and other government agencies for confirmation of awards, could not find him in his database.


    The result: Once members began questioning his service in 2005, he resigned in November of that year, but he did not admit embellishing his record. He was also running for junior vice commander-in-chief of the Southern Conference of the Veterans of Foreign Wars at that time. His biography posted during his campaign on the VFW Web site reported he earned the Silver Star, Combat Action Ribbon and two Purple Hearts. Garris lost the election.

    His case was investigated by the FBI, and the results of the investigation were handed off to the Justice Department this summer, but no charges have yet been filed, said FBI agent Greg Baker, who oversaw the investigation.

    2. Name: Former Pvt. Roy Scott

    From: Port Angeles, Wash.

    The lie: Scott joined the local Marine Corps League and claimed to have left service as a major. The 71-year-old man claimed he fought in the Korean War and was pictured wearing the rank of major and a Purple Heart with a cluster, Combat Action Ribbon, Bronze Star and Korean War ribbons. He accepted almost $22,000 in VA medical benefits.


    The reality: His DD 214 states he received a bad-conduct discharge and got out as a private. Scott was 14 years old when the Korean War began and didn’t enlist until Oct. 23, 1953, more than three months after the war ended.


    The result: Dan Abbott, the commandant of the local Marine Corps League, said other league members grew suspicious of Scott as he shied away from the other Marine officers and spoke like a “dirt private.” Abbott, with help from retired FBI agent Tom Cottone, launched an investigation into Scott’s record.

    Scott pleaded guilty on Aug. 31 in federal court to using an altered military discharge certificate to obtain VA compensation and medical benefits and to unlawfully wearing military medals. On the day of his plea, he handed the judge a check for the amount of money received from the VA. He will be sentenced Nov. 30 by U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Alice Theiler in Seattle.

    3. Name: Former Lance Cpl. Glenn Marshall

    From: Mashpee, Mass.

    The lie: As chairman of the Wampanoag Indian Tribe, Marshall led the charge to gain federal recognition for his tribe by stating publicly and testifying under oath during a 2004 House committee hearing that he was a survivor of the Battle of Khe Sanh during the Vietnam War in 1968.


    The reality: Corps manpower officials confirmed that Marshall, who exited the Corps as a lance corporal in 1970 after 23 months of service, was not yet a Marine when the 77-day battle for Khe Sanh began, and was still in the Corps’ initial training pipeline when it ended. Though Marshall’s records do indicate at least one deployment to Vietnam as an infantryman, his record contains no awards such as the Combat Action Ribbon to suggest he ever heard a shot fired in anger.


    The result: Within days of being exposed as a military faker by newspapers in Cape Cod, Mass., and New London, Conn., information surfaced about Marshall’s 1981 rape conviction, and the Wampanoag tribal council ousted him as its chairman. Though he didn’t mention the rape conviction, Marshall issued a public apology for lying about his military service.

    “I am proud of my service in the Vietnam War and stand by the service I provided for my country during that horrific period of history,” he wrote. “Like others who were part of the war, the years that followed my service are not something I’m proud of. I am proud of the rehabilitation and turnaround in my life following those years, and am proud of what the tribe has accomplished. I am sorry to have distorted my record and to allow it to stand uncorrected. Like a lot of veterans from that era, I realize I have my own demons that I need to deal with.”

    4. Name: Maurice Foxx

    From: Boston

    The lie: As head of the Massachusetts State Commission on Indian Affairs, Foxx’s official biography was that agency’s Web site, stating that he had served “in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.”


    The reality: Manpower officials who searched the Corps’ personnel records confirmed that there has never been a Maurice Foxx in the ranks.


    The result: Foxx’s official biography on the state’s Web site has been changed; all references to the Marine Corps and Vietnam have been deleted. Foxx could not be reached by Marine Corps Times, but told the Cape Cod (Mass.) Times in a telephone interview that he had never read his official biography online, was unaware that it mistakenly portrayed him as a former Marine and ordered that it be fixed as soon as he found out.

    5. Name: Former Pfc. Elven Swisher

    From: Cottonwood, Idaho

    The lie: Swisher claimed he was a Korean War hero who took part in highly classified missions to free U.S. prisoners of war. He claimed to have earned the Silver Star, Purple Heart, Navy and Marine Corps Medal, and Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with combat “V.” He also claimed to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder to obtain additional benefits from the VA.


    The reality: He served in the Marine Corps on active duty from 1954 to 1957. He was demoted to private first class from corporal after being court-martialed three times during his service.


    The result: The twist to Swisher’s case was that he was discovered after he wore a Purple Heart pin while testifying in a courtroom that he had been requested by a local businessman to kill a U.S. district judge, an assistant U.S. attorney and an Internal Revenue Service special agent who had a dispute with the IRS.

    He was arrested in July and charged in the Idaho District Court with wearing unauthorized military medals, theft of government funds and two counts of making false statements, according to court documents. He could face up to 20 years and 6 months in prison along with a $755,000 fine, charging documents state.

    Ellie


  3. #3
    Database could serve as example for feds
    By John Hoellwarth - jhoellwarth@militarytimes.com
    Posted : September 17, 2007

    With the nation at war, the number of decorated veterans is on the rise, a trend law enforcement officials agree is historically accompanied by an increase in phonies attempting to cash in on the respect legitimate heroes receive.

    Though frauds usually skyline themselves by going too far — often claiming numerous service crosses, Silver Stars and Purple Hearts — it’s often difficult to tell the real heroes from the fake ones. It’s even more problematic to confirm suspicions when a story or ribbon rack looks too good to be true.

    The solution is simple, relatively cheap, and comes down to a moral imperative for the federal government, said Doug Sterner, a civilian in Pueblo, Colo., who’s spent the last nine years compiling an online database of everyone who has earned the nation’s top three awards for combat valor since World War I.

    The records on Sterner’s Web site, www.homeofheroes.com, are rock-solid and attract about 8 million hits each month. The FBI and several other government agencies use his database to check up on people they suspect of wearing unearned awards.

    That’s because the government doesn’t have a central database of its own, something Sterner and several veterans organizations are pushing to change.

    Each branch of the military keeps its own records of award recipients, but those records are partially digitized and available to the public only through Freedom of Information Act requests that often take months to process, making it difficult for communities to identify the phonies in their midst and problematic for military officials to honor unsung heroes in their ranks.

    Sterner said 50 percent of the requests he’s received over the years have come from Army, Navy and Air Force officials who ask, “Do you have so and so’s citation? We’re naming a rifle range for him and such-and-such.”

    Sterner said he has connected countless people with the citations they have needed to dedicate buildings and memorials to recipients, but he’d rather the military took it out of his hands because “I’m doing a job the government should be doing.”

    He’s urging the House and Senate veterans’ affairs and armed services committees to hold hearings on the topic of military personnel records, hoping that lawmakers will protect heroes and guard against fakers by creating an “official” online national database of valor award recipients.

    Sterner’s sentiments are echoed by the nation’s largest veterans organizations and may be gaining steam on the Hill.

    “Military awards, decorations and badges should already be electronically filed for [discharge paperwork] purposes,” said Joe Davis, national spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “Consolidating such records in this information age should be a snap.”

    Ramona Joyce, spokeswoman for the American Legion’s national headquarters, called creating a national database of awards recipients “a no-brainer.”

    Playing “devil’s advocate,” Joyce said the government should ensure a national database doesn’t put “too much personal information” in the public domain and noted that “while we’d like to recognize all heroes, not all heroes would like to be recognized.”

    Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., who sits on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, feels “it makes perfect sense for him to carry legislation as a follow-up to Stolen Valor [Act of 2005],” which he introduced in the House two years ago, said his spokesman, Rick Palacio. The law made it a crime to claim unearned valor awards.

    “There should be an accessible digital database of military records including medals and awards,” he said. “I don’t know what the likelihood of hearings are, but someone will take up the issue of legislating the database in the near future. Congressman Salazar has been giving it a lot of thought.”

    Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., who signed onto the bill after a former Marine in his district was caught wearing an unearned Navy Cross, may again co-sponsor the legislation if Salazar introduces it in the House.

    “Sam in very interested in this idea,” said his communications director, Jason Klindt. “There should never be any doubt that medals were won and not stolen, so he is committed to protecting the integrity of these awards.”

    Ellie


  4. #4
    Is there any one service that is prone to this type of behavior???


  5. #5
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  6. #6
    I just can't understand why anyone would lie about medals earned,especially combat medals such as purple heart etc. when our brothers and other servicemen and women have and are losing limbs and lives today for our country! People who stoop that low should be recalled and given dishonorable discharge and publicised in local and national newspapers! Scumbags, Danny Canterberry Honorable discharge L/CPL


  7. #7
    All the services are having massive faker issues. Fake SEALS, Green Berets/Rangers, 'combat vets' from every service. It's just that nowadays, it's easier to smoke them out with some basic research on the internet instead of doing the paper searching.

    There have been fakers after every war, for various reasons.


  8. #8
    One of the most admirable efforts to preserve American Military History is the "Veterans Living History Project" administered by the Library of Congress at http://www.loc.gov/vets The problem is, without a national database of TRUE recipients of awards, even the LOC can not check out the veracity of these stories, preserved for posterity and stamped with the legitimacy of having it recorded by the Library of Congress.
    See For Instance: The page maintained by LOC for the most highly decorated man in history, Wallace M. Gallant who, according to LOC earned the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, and Air Force Cross (accomplished by no other person in history) at: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/vhp/bib/14966
    • In a sampling of 49 records in which the interviewee claims to have earned the Medal of Honor in a VLHP interview, 24 are NOT recipients of the Medal of Honor.
      In a sampling of the TWO interviews in which the veteran claims to have received the Air Force Cross (only 191 have ever been awarded), only ONE is a legitimate recipient of the AFC.
      In a sampling of 100 interviews in which the veteran claims to have received the Distinguished Service Cross, more than 30 are bogus.
      In a sampling of 50 interviews in which the veteran claims to have received the Navy Cross, nearly ONE THIRD are bogus.
      In a sampling of 144 interviews in which the veteran claims to have been a Prisoner of War, as many as ONE THIRD are questionable.
    To get a clearer picture of this problem, check out American hero (according to the Library of Congress) Joseph Bernard Murphy who has a page in which he claims he was Special Forces, earned the DSC, and suffered as a POW at: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/vhp/bib/29411 Then, to really ruin your day.... take the time to watch Mr. Murphy's video interview in which he tells his outlandish stories of SF service, covert missions into the USSR, Laos and Cambodia, and his capture and daring escape at: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/vhp/sto...o?ID=mv0001001
    We DO need a national database to identify true heroes, more for the admirable purpose that launched the VLHP of preserving TRUE history, but without a means to verify and then weed out the phonies, the REAL history becomes suspect and looses its meaning.


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