An Army deserter who admitted he spent years masquerading as a federal law enforcement agent and Special Ops sergeant who earned the Purple Heart was sentenced Monday to a year and a day in federal prison.
Simon Emilio Zablah, 29, of Broward County, pleaded guilty last year to two charges of impersonating a federal officer and one count of credit card fraud.
He admitted he had been living an elaborate lie that included leaving for work each day, dressed as a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, and claiming he was going on weekend training bouts with the military.
Zablah said he went AWOL from the U.S. Army less than two weeks after he enlisted in January 2005 because he was hazed by other soldiers. He was later discharged on "other than honorable conditions."
"I'm deeply sorry for what I've done," Zablah told the judge. "What I've done is not only dishonorable, it's disrespectful."
He said he was glad he'd gotten caught. He felt compelled to pretend to friends and others that his military career had gone well because he "couldn't get over the failure" of his desertion, he told the judge.
Though his criminal offenses could have earned him a much heavier penalty, the prosecution and defense recommended Zablah serve a year and a day in prison and receive mental health treatment.
Senior U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley told Zablah he found it difficult to understand why a talented, intelligent person resorted to such outlandish behavior. The judge urged him to get psychological help to understand and overcome his difficulties.
"I'm no psychologist ... but that seems very, very, very strange. My suspicion is that whatever feelings of inadequacy or guilt you felt, because of the desertion, that you are over-compensating for that," the judge said.
Hurley agreed to go along with the punishment recommended by prosecutors.
"I think they're giving you a break and I'm willing to participate in that," the judge told Zablah. He warned the consequences will be much more severe if Zablah commits any more offenses.
Zablah must also serve three years of supervised release when he gets out of prison.The judge banned him from wearing or possessing any kind of law enforcement or military uniforms, honors, badges or identification. Zablah is also prohibited from having any firearms, BB guns or air guns.
FBI agents and investigators from the U.S. Department of Defense said Zablah led a complicated life of deception for years. He convinced many people he had survived being wounded in action and earned the prestigious Purple Heart.
Prosecutor Carolyn Bell said his misconduct was escalating. As well as lying about being a DEA agent, he claimed he was working on a top-secret classified mission as a member of the U.S. Department of Defense's Special Ops forces.
Zablah frequently wore a full military uniform, decorated with honors and badges, that got him special treatment, including free meals from restaurants.
Zablah admitted he used his fake military card to persuade a Hollywood police officer to give him a warning instead of a $205 speeding ticket in April in Hollywood.
He lied about serving in the military repeatedly when he applied for jobs and claimed he was a U.S. Army Reserve officer to help get him a job at Plantation uniforms supply company in April 2013. The company fired him after he used a credit card number he obtained from a customer to make about $3,500 worth of fraudulent purchases in 2013.
Zablah also posted photographs and comments on social media websites, leaving the impression he was a decorated military veteran and war hero who earned several honor, including a Combat Action Badge. He infiltrated a Facebook group for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and persuaded several of him to do "big favors" for him, Bell said.
Witnesses said Zablah left for work each day dressed in shirts that bore the words "FEDERAL AGENT" in prominent letters. He also frequently wore tactical law enforcement and military equipment.
Zablah's deception started to unravel in July 2015 when he was arrested on a state domestic violence charge. His pregnant girlfriend told Hollywood police he tried to strangle her during an argument. That case is pending in state court.
He was released on bail with an electronic monitor but cut it off a month later and fled to El Salvador after federal agents tried to question him about the impersonation allegations. Zablah, a U.S. citizen who was born in New York, was arrested Oct. 21 after taking a flight from El Salvador to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.