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Fake Navy SEAL Gets 3 Years in Prison for Defrauding Charity

Gavel at rest

A man who pretended to be a U.S. Navy SEAL who could rescue kidnapped workers for a Chicago aid agency was sentenced Monday to three years in prison, prosecutors said.

William Burley, 36, formerly of Yucaipa, Calif., was ordered to pay full restitution of $32,454 to International Aid Services America, or IAS, a nonprofit Christian aid group that provides clean water in Africa, authorities said.

The president of the board of the aid agency, Jonathan Wildt, welcomed the ruling as "fair."

"We're just glad to see the justice process work appropriately, and glad for that outcome," he said.

Burley pleaded guilty to wire fraud in August, and in a written plea agreement he admitted that he devised a scheme to defraud IAS America and IAS International in Stockholm, Sweden, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

In July 2012, four IAS International workers were ambushed and assaulted by armed attackers while doing humanitarian work in Somalia, according to the Justice department. One worker was shot and left at the scene, and the other three were kidnapped.

Somali police defended the workers but were overpowered by a much larger group of attackers, according to an IAS news release.

Burley approached IAS International and offered to help it negotiate with the Somali captors for the release of the employees, and, if necessary, help rescue them.

While making his offer, Burley falsely claimed to be a SEAL and to have received numerous accommodations in the Navy, authorities said. He also falsely claimed that he had attended the University of Delaware and University of Maryland, and to have been a consultant for the Navy and departments of Defense and State.

Burley persuaded IAS America to pay him $30,000 and to pay for him and another person to travel to Kenya. When he was unable to obtain release of the hostages, Burley came back to the United States, and in September 2012 he presented a "rescue plan" to IAS America and made more false claims about his past achievements, prosecutors said.

After officials with the nonprofit became suspicious, they said they contacted Don Shipley, well-known for exposing SEAL impersonators, who confronted Burley about discrepancies in his background, and IAS cut ties with him.

The three hostages were released in June 2014, after 22 months in captivity, and were believed to be uninjured and in relatively good health, the IAS reported. During their captivity, an IAS crisis management team was able to speak to the hostages occasionally and deliver supplies.

The IAS reported that it also got many calls from people falsely claiming to have the hostages, but in most cases quickly identified and dismissed those callers. Extended discussions with the kidnappers resulted in their release, though the terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The worker who'd been shot recovered, IAS reported. At the time of the kidnapping, IAS America was located in northwest suburban Crystal Lake, but it reported that all of the aid workers involved were from Kenya.

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