Phony 4-star, others infiltrate MCA
By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Jul 6, 2009 17:47:02 EDT

Donald Laisure Sr. has a biography that could wow nearly anyone.

The retired four-star general earned the Navy Cross, the Silver Star and an Air Medal in a 54-year career that included service in Vietnam, Panama and the Persian Gulf War, according to his profile in the 2009 Marine Corps Association Directory. He went on to become the CEO and chairman of the board at Laisure Oil Refinery & Production Company in Greenville, Texas, the directory says.

It’s a great story of a self-made man making it big.

Too bad it’s not true.

Laisure’s history is one of some 40 false or erroneous profiles in the directory, which was published early this year. Completed in November, it is available to members for $80.

Members of the Legion of Valor, the P.O.W. Network and other organizations identified the incorrect entries after a member thought the number of MCA listings claiming Navy Crosses seemed too high. They believe there could be many more.

A Marine Corps Times review of the initial 40 profiles in question and official service records confirms the MCA directory contains incorrect medals, including 16 fraudulent Medals of Honor, 16 fake Navy Crosses and eight bogus Silver Stars. Additionally, the National Personnel Records Center, which maintains former service members’ paperwork, has no record of at least five people listed in the directory ever serving in the military.

Questioned about his past, Laisure, 80, initially insisted it was all legitimate. But when pressed, he said he was never an officer and served less than a year on active duty before leaving the service as a private. California records also show he was once married to convicted murderer Susan Atkins, the ex-wife of serial killer Charles Manson, and Greenville officials say they have no record of his company ever existing.

“I guess I just wanted to be something I wasn’t,” he said. “I’ve just always admired the Marine Corps, and I hope I’ve done no harm.”

Mary Schantag, co-founder of the P.O.W. Network, expressed outrage that MCA published the directory, available to members through a third-party organization, without proper background checks.

“It negates the true honor of the Marine Corps when you’re filling up your membership with phonies,” she said.

Association officials say that’s blowing things out of proportion. Tom Esslinger, MCA’s chief operating officer, said some entries are wrong simply because of data entry mistakes.

The discrepancies in the 2009 directory — a listing of the association’s estimated 80,000 members — were first discovered by retired Lt. Col. Thomas Richards, a Navy Cross recipient and member of the Legion of Valor, an organization for recipients of the Medal of Honor, the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Service Cross and the Air Force Cross.

Richards said he searched the directory for individuals eligible to join the Legion of Valor, but was struck by an unlikely number of Navy Cross recipients.

“It just occurred to me: What if there are people in here who are claiming fraudulent Medals of Honor and service crosses?” he said.

Among the most amazing stories is Laisure’s. He married Atkins, now 61, on Sept. 2, 1981, in Frontera, Calif., according to their wedding license. A UPI news account of Atkins’ 1981 parole board hearing describes him as “Donald (Fla$h) Laisure, 52, the self-styled Texas millionaire who married Atkins” in a jailhouse ceremony.

It’s unclear if Laisure was a millionaire, then or now, or if that was a fabrication, too. He and Atkins divorced a few months after the ceremony, with Atkins later saying that Laisure was “not being totally honest with me,” according to a transcript of her 1985 parole board hearing.

Esslinger said the organization began working on the problems after the Legion of Valor raised concerns in March. The association plans to release an “update” to the directory this summer, listing corrected information for the 40 individuals flagged, and has sent letters to each of them notifying that will happen. MCA officials contracted with an outside organization, Harris Connect, to collect the information for the directory and do “everything it can” to ensure the legitimacy of its membership, Esslinger said. Harris also completed MCA directories in 2005, 2001 and 1998.

Harris received more than 31,000 updates from MCA members in the process of developing the directory, said Nancy Liguori, a company official. Harris launched an audit, listening to recorded telephone conversations with the members in question, and eventually concluded the errors were caused by employees making inaccurate selections on a computer screen.

It is still possible, however, that a “small number of the 40” lied about their service record, Esslinger said. MCA staff members, he said, were aware of the dubious nature of Laisure’s claims and questioned him a few years ago, but he was allowed to remain a member.

“We don’t want to embarrass these people because most of them are totally innocent,” Esslinger said. “We got Harris to acknowledge their role in this and to send a letter to the Legion of Valor, and as far as we’re concerned, that’s the end of it.”

That’s not good enough, said retired Col. William Bridgeham, whose profile was botched. He quit the association after getting a letter questioning his record, which military documents show includes a Distinguished Flying Cross that was included in the directory as a Distinguished Service Cross.

“It was expressed to me in such an insulting way that I went back to them and told them to pound sand,” he said. “The association had absolutely terrible quality assurance on that publication.”