Colorado CongressmanJohn SalazarIntroduces Stolen Valor Act of 2005
July 22, 2005
CONGRESSMAN SALAZAR: “PENALIZE PHONIES NOW”
Salazar Introduces “Stolen Valor Act” to Penalize Medal Frauds
WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman John T. Salazar (CO-3), the only veteran from the Colorado delegation, today announced the introduction of the “Stolen Valor Act”, legislation to penalize distributors of phony medals and those who fraudulently claim to be decorated veterans. Salazar’s legislation would place criminal penalties on those who falsely claim to have risked their lives for our country, restoring honor to those who have truly earned it.
“Medals recognize the best American qualities – courage, honor, and sacrifice,” said Salazar. “These honors are reserved for those who willingly risked their lives for our country. The Medal of Honor is our nation’s highest military honor. And the Purple Heart is only awarded for genuine acts of courage. It is our job to protect the honor and integrity of our veterans, to make sure the memory of their heroism is not tarnished.”
B.G. Burkett’s award winning book “Stolen Valor” first exposed the problem of medals fraud. Current law only allows prosecution of imposters who wear an unearned Medal of Honor on their person. Salazar’s legislation will expand the law to include those who publicly claim to be decorated veterans, allowing the Federal Bureau of Investigation to finally prosecute several high profile cases (see attached profiles.)
“Shame on those who claim credit for acts of courage they did not commit, their lies are criminal” said Salazar. “Medal recipients are often too humble to parade their honors. By letting the phonies continue their masquerade, we diminish the honor of our true heroes. Federal law enforcement agents are willing to go after these frauds, Congress needs to provide the tools necessary to get the job done.”
Salazar’s legislation is the direct result of the efforts of Pam and Doug Sterner of Pueblo and Medal of Honor recipient Peter Lemon of Colorado Springs. The city of Pueblo in Salazar’s congressional district was designated “America’s Home of Heroes” by Congress, because it is home to more Medal of Honor recipients than elsewhere in the country.
FRAUDS GOING FREE
Judge Michael O'Brien, Illinois
Illinois District Judge Michael O’Brien displayed two Medals of Honor in a frame on the wall of his courtroom. Everyone in his city believed their judge was not only an honorable man of the judicial profession, but one of America ’s greatest heroes.
O’Brien’s fraud was discovered when he tried to apply for Medal of Honor license plates for his vehicle. Illinois provides valid Medal of Honor recipients with distinctive license plates for their personal vehicles. When Judge O’Brien applied for his Medal of Honor plates for himself, someone at the Department of Motor Vehicles happened to contact a true recipient and learned O’Brien was a fraud.
O’Brien’s lies were subsequently exposed but he avoided prosecution. While it is against the law to manufacture, wear, buy, sell, or trade the Medal of Honor, it is not a criminal offense to possess one or display it on your wall.
“We couldn’t prosecute O’Brien under federal law because he wasn’t actually wearing the Medal, which is illegal for an impostor to do,” explains FBI agent Tom Cottone.
Lawrence Hammer, Florida
Lawrence Hammer claims to be a former Navy Seal who won the Medal of Honor for being shot twice in Vietnam . Not only did he use his claims and falsified records to gain employment and health care, he went on to con $45,000 from a widow he met at the Bay Pines VA Medical Center.
In the words of the widow:
“I am a VA employee at Bay Pines VA Medical Center, Bay Pines. Mr. Hammer was a patient and a CWT worker at this hospital when I met him. I was widowed 3/3/01 and Mike knew about the time I spent taking care of my husband before he died… he took me for over $45,000…
“I have since had contact with a Susan in Savannah who told me he did exactly the same thing to her. He also did this to a woman in South Carolina named Krissy, who had his arrested for domestic violence, she was beaten and choked by this man… he told me and many people here at the VA that he was trained to kill in the Seals and had already killed a man who molested his daughter, but according to his father, he’s never been married or had kids. This man is a predator and I want to see him exposed before any more women are taken in by him.”
Hammer falsified records claiming to be a decorated veteran and used that status to con the government and unsuspecting women – but he cannot be prosecuted because he did not display medals on his person.
Gilbert Velasquez (AZ)
In 2004, a small paper in Arizona ran a two-full-page story of local "hero" Gilbert Velasquez, who claimed to have participated in the “Blackhawk Down” mission and the capture of Saddam Hussein.
The article featured a front-page photo with Velasquez holding multiple awards including TWO Silver Stars, Legion of Merit, Bronze Stars, Purple Hearts. Despite holding the photo of these medals he claims or telling a reporter his DSC was buried with his godfather—and despite gut-wrenching "war stories" of combat, lost buddies, and personal heroics – this man cannot be prosecuted under current law.