Montana's highest court has upheld a judgment against a Lynchburg, Virginia, man who solicited at least one investor in his business dealings by claiming to have been a U.S. Marine.
The Montana Supreme Court last month upheld a lower court's decision ordering Laron Shannon, formerly of Kalispell, Montana, to pay $1.7 million in damages to Donald Kaltschmidt, of Whitefish. Kaltschmidt, according to the court, gave Shannon $250,000 to invest in a company Shannon said would hire veterans to clean oil rigs in eastern Montana and North Dakota.
But Shannon, who often wore Marine apparel such as caps and knit shirts with the Eagle, Globe and Anchor and portrayed himself as a former Marine officer, never served on active duty as a commissioned Marine, according to court documents. When asked early during the court proceedings to produce a DD-214 record of service document, he did not immediately produce it.
Following multiple trial delays by Shannon for medical emergencies, as well as a bankruptcy declaration that temporarily halted proceedings, Shannon offered up roughly 300 documents a week before the trial was to start, including a DD-214 that showed he was discharged in 1982 as a midshipman -- a term that applies to both students at the U.S. Naval Academy and students in Navy and Marine Corps ROTC programs at other schools.
The 11th District Judicial Court ruled that the documents were not admissible to the court because they had not been produced in a timely manner. And Kaltschmidt's attorneys charged that the documents were forged.
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"The District Court was provided with proof that Mr. Shannon had fabricated many of the newly produced 'Top Secret' redacted documents in his 'VA file' ... and was presented with proof that Mr. Shannon had forged what he claimed was his DD214," an appellee brief to the Montana Supreme Court states.
Shannon appealed the lower court’s decision based on the decision regarding the documentation as well as the trial proceedings, which continued after Shannon elected to leave the courtroom the first day when, while cross-examining Kaltschmidt, he claimed a medical emergency.
In his absence, the jury found Shannon liable for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, constructive fraud and breach of fiduciary duty, awarding $224,000 in compensatory damages, and later, an additional $1.5 million in punitive damages.
The Montana Supreme Court upheld the ruling, concluding that the lower court had the right to exclude Shannon’s documents and it had "exercised considerable patience with" him before allowing the trial to proceed.
It did not weigh in on the validity of Shannon's documents.
Shannon graduated from Virginia Military Institute in 1982, according to the college’s yearbook, and he showed what he said was his DD-214 and honorable discharge to a Virginia television station last year.
Shannon said he was a member of the Marine Reserve as an enlisted person during college and attended Officer Candidates School at Quantico, Virginia, from July 13, 1982, through Aug. 21, 1982.
"I was discharged honorably with a rank of officer candidate," Shannon told the court and the television station.
But he never produced any evidence of having received a commission. And according to Kaltschmidt, he represented himself as a former Marine officer at various events and in business dealings.
“He was always vague about the details of his service,” Kaltschmidt said.
According to Kaltschmidt, Shannon portrayed himself as a former officer at charitable events in Montana and elsewhere, including Toys for Tots drives, veterans functions and the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference in Lynchburg, Virginia.
During Shannon's time in Montana, he "infiltrated our veterans groups and took advantage of a lot of people," Kaltschmidt said, adding that he pursued the case solely for that reason.
"He shows up for veteran events and takes credit for something he had nothing to do with,” Kaltschmidt told Military.com. “We wanted to make sure he would never do it again.”
According to court documents, the company Shannon intended to establish, Oilfield Warriors, never conducted any business operations. Shannon allegedly embezzled the company's funds and established two other companies, JD Services and Hire America's Finest, around the same time he created Oilfield Warriors, the business in which Kaltschmidt invested.
A call to Shannon's home in Lynchburg went unanswered. He represented himself in court proceedings after three separate attorneys withdrew from his case.
Kaltschmidt, who served in the Marine Corps in the amphibious assault vehicle community from 1975 to 1978 and has a son who served in the Marine Corps, said Shannon knew enough about the service to "talk a good game," which made other veterans -- and the public -- vulnerable to his solicitations for charity and investments.
"It's egregious and disheartening to the people who actually serve," Kaltschmidt said. "These types of things should not be tolerated."
Kaltschmidt said he plans to pursue recoupment of the funds awarded him by the court.
"Bankruptcy doesn't shield a person in cases of fraud," he said.
Kaltschmidt's attorney, Corey Laird, described Shannon as a "very smart man who knows more about the history of the Marine Corps than anyone."
But, Laird added, Shannon never completed OCS after an injury even though he was given the option to return.
"He's masquerading as a Marine, soliciting funds and using money for his own profit. It's the worst kind of theft there is," Laird said.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.
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