Retired Marine Corps master sergeant Fred Montney III and others turned to admire Gerard Smigel, 52, in his dress blue uniform and wearing the rank of lieutenant Colonel. "He was in his element. He enjoyed it," says Montney, who sat at Smigel's table.We are getting better at going after these guys. They drive me nuts. They are bad enough on the Internet; at a bar......
As the night wore on, Montney noticed little flaws. Smigel would excuse himself to go to the "latrine." Marines call it the "head." Smigel wore one award, a Combat Action Ribbon, upside down. "When I asked him questions, he would get somewhat fuzzy" about details, Montney recalls. He snapped a photo of Smigel, smiling next to his wife, and later called the FBI.
Smigel pleaded guilty this month in federal court to illegally wearing the uniform and medals. He was sentenced to three years of probation and fined $3,000.
The FBI has investigated 58 cases of people allegedly wearing fraudulent military decorations since 2001. Assisted by military researchers and the Internet — where hoaxes can be quickly tracked and exposed — the FBI could end up investigating more cases of medal fraud this year than in any other previous year, Cottone says. He says he gets one tip a week.
"I call them gutless creeps," Montney says of frauds such as Smigel. According to court documents, Smigel's true military service was as an Air Force plumbing specialist who received a less-than-honorable discharge in 1975.
"The vast majority, it's just low self-esteem," says B.G. "Jug" Burkett, a retired stockbroker from Dallas who led efforts to unmask frauds with Stolen Valor, a 1998 book he co-wrote. Burkett says people assume heroic alter egos to offset shortcomings.
"Whenever you make someone a hero, he's not only heroic, he's trustworthy, he's honest, he's loyal, he's sincere. All these other attributes get attached to him," he says. "And if somehow he has failed in some way, then it's due to that evil war that he was forced to fight. You can take both the good and the bad and it explains
Support in Congress is growing for the "Stolen Valor Act," which would stiffen penalties for falsely claiming to have received any medal. Since it was introduced last year, the number of co-sponsors has doubled.BZ to DC. Nice start.
The bill would make it a crime to merely claim the medal was earned. It would also increase punishment. Today, only those fraudulently wearing Medals of Honor face up to a year in jail and a $100,000 fine. The bill would increase penalties for wearing other medals to the same level.