Man Who Wore Fake Military Medals Challenges Stolen Valor Law

He sees very few cases where such a lie isn't fueled by a desire to take advantage of some benefit to decorated veterans.

"Almost without exception in every sort of stolen valor case I have dealt with, there is some kind of underlying fraud, usually with financial fraud," he said.

In Houston last week, the FBI arrested a man who attended the mayoral inauguration with enough medals pinned to his chest to raise the suspicion of one retired military man who snapped several pictures and sent them to ABC's Houston affiliate KTRK.

The photo shows him at Mayor Annise Parker's inauguration in December wearing a U.S. Army general's uniform "and many unauthorized and unearned military combat and bravery awards."

Michael Patrick McManus, 44, was later arrested at his home and charged with violating the Stolen Valor Act. According to a news release after his arrest, the FBI found that he had served in the Army for three years in the 1980s, but never rose above the rank of private.

Stolen Valor: Medals Indicate Bravery, Sacrifice

Among the medals on McManus' uniform were the Distinguished Service Cross combat award for bravery, the Silver Star combat award for bravery, the Bronze Star combat award for bravery, the U.S. Air Medal award, the U.S. Flying Cross award and a Purple Heart.

He was also wearing the Combat Infantry Badge, Master Jump Wings, Helicopter Pilot Wings, Air Assault Wings and the Pathfinder Badge, according to the FBI.

Sterner noted that the vast majority of suspected stolen valor cases are never prosecuted. He knows of 50 to 60 convictions since the law was signed by President George Bush. He attributed the seemingly low number of charges filed to a disparity among U.S. attorneys willing to take on such cases unless they are particularly egregious.

But for the men and women who actually earned the medals, even the slightest exaggeration is an insult to not just them, but the armed forces.

"It's not simply a pickup line," Solis said.

Military decorations are so enticing to some that even former Navy Adm. Jeremy Boorda, who commanded a ship in Vietnamese waters during the Vietnam War, was challenged in 1996 over two "V"s that were attached to medals that he wore in an official photo. The Vs designated that he won the medals in combat.

As an indication of how sensitive an issue those medals are to people who have earned them, Boorda committed suicide in 1996 when pressed to defend his honors.

It's also not a new offense. The Stolen Valor Act only strengthened existing laws that punished those wearing unauthorized military decorations and medals.

Solis said he remembered prosecuting what amounted to a stolen valor case in the 1970s when a police officer who was a veteran of the military, recognized that the decorated uniform of a Marine he pulled over for speeding had been exaggerated based on the medals pinned to the front.

"He just wanted to be a hometown hero," Solis said.

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