FBI on the Lookout for Phony Heroes This Memorial Day Weekend

By Vic Walter

May 25, 2007 10:24am

FBI agents and veterans will be on the lookout this Memorial Day weekend for phony military heroes, a disquieting trend that officials say has grown substantially in the years of the war with Iraq. "I probably get three to five calls a day about someone spotted with suspicious decorations," said Doug Sterner, who passes along the tips to veterans groups and the FBI. Sterner operates the Web site Home of Heroes, which is dedicated to honoring true military heroes. Photos: Phony Military Heroes: Medals of Dishonor "I’ll be damned if I sit idly by while some wannabe phony wears awards that real heroes gave their lives for," Sterner said. Among the most recent examples is Louis Lowell McGuinn of New York City. He claimed to be a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army, often appearing at military events wearing an impressive array of decorations, including a Purple Heart, Silver Star and the Distinguished Service Cross. But law enforcement officials say it was a ruse and that McGuinn was discharged from the Army in 1968 as a private, with none of the decorations he claimed. Last month, FBI agents arrested McGuinn and charged him with wearing unearned medals and badges in violation of federal law. They say he posed as a highly decorated military officer in order to get a job with an underwater marine security company. McGuinn pleaded not guilty and was released on $5,000 bail with his travel restricted. When contacted by ABC News, he declined to comment on the case.  The FBI and veterans groups say there are more and more decorated phonies turning up every day, and when they are caught, the punishment varies. In one recent case in St. Louis, businessman Gerald Weilbacher received only two years probation and a $3,000 fine after pleading guilty to federal charges of wearing Marine Corps medals he did not earn, including the Navy Cross, the Corps’ second highest medal. The 400-pound Weilbacher never served in the Marines and was spotted at one Marine Corps veterans event as a phony because "he was too fat to be a Marine,"  according to one veteran. In contrast, Michael Bramlett of Springfield, Mo., was sentenced to six months in federal prison without parole for claiming to be a Marine Captain and wearing unauthorized medals that included a Silver Star, Navy Cross and a Purple Heart for combat in Iraq. At his sentencing on April 3, U.S. Attorney Bradley Schlozman said, "This impostor received the maximum penalty for his dishonorable conduct. Such disrespect for the brave men and women serving in our nation’s forces won’t be tolerated." FBI Agent Michael Sandborn works to track down and expose phony military heroes.  "In cemeteries overseas, there are 124,913 Americans who paid for their Purple Hearts with their lives, and these impostors purchase theirs over the Internet and at surplus stores," he told ABC News.  Recent passage of the Stolen Valor Act now makes any misrepresentation of military decorations punishable by up to a year in jail. Watchdogs like Doug Sterner think that even with the tougher law, military phonies will still be out there tarnishing the image of the true military heroes. Sterner says, "It’s so prevalent that you’re never going to catch and prosecute all of them." Do you have a tip for Brian Ross & the Investigative Team?

You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus