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 protect 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 the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, there have been an estimated 40 prosecutions under the new law.
'Those Who Don't Talk About It'
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 to one year of probation and 100 hours of community service.
On the other side of the country, Michael Allen 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 helicoter 3,000 feet above the ground.
While Fraser did serve in the military as a veterinary assistant in the Phiilippines, he was never in Vietnam, nor did he earn the military awards. In May 2008, Fraser was sentanced to 100 hours of community service and ordered to pay a $500 fine. During sentancing, 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 Clarmont, 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 sentanced to 400 hours of community service (once a week for a year) at the Loma 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 heir 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 ensamble-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 sentanced to one year of home confinement and a $500 fine.
'It Just Bothers Me'
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 DSCfor 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 Ithink about the soldiers who have died for our country, it bothers me."