Investigators at the National Archives have taken steps to make their research resources more available to federal and local law enforcement to deal with what they suspect is an uptick in "stolen valor" cases to obtain benefits or loans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We believe they're doing it," said Jason Metrick, assistant Inspector General for Investigations at the National Archives. "It's a matter of exposing or finding it."
The archives have jurisdiction over the nation's repository of military records at the National Personnel Record Center (NPRC).
"We see lots of ID theft" by individuals seeking to claim a veteran's identity to get a credit card or a loan, Metrick said.
In an interview Monday, Metrick and Waleska McLellan, special agent in charge at the Office of Inspector General in the National Archives and Records Administration, said their initiative is focused on putting out the word their resources are there to help in stolen valor cases.
"We have a responsibility to protect these records" from misuse, McLellan said.
"We want to let folks know we're here," Metrick added. Some law enforcement agencies "may not know we exist."
McLellan and Metrick said the initiative is not intended to go after that 30-something blowhard at the end of the bar who just has to tell anybody who will listen about how tough he had it on Iwo Jima.
"Money or some type of tangible benefit is the key element in bringing federal charges against an individual falsely claiming valor awards," the fact sheet states.
Congress passed a bill in 2005 to criminalize false claims about military service and awards. But in the landmark 2012 case of U.S. v Alvarez, the Supreme Court ruled that the bill was an unconstitutional violation of free speech rights. In essence, the court ruled that lying in itself is not a crime.
Lawmakers went back to the drawing board and passed the Stolen Valor Act of 2013, making it a crime punishable by up to one year in jail to make false claims about military service and awards with the intent of seeking monetary gain, employment or other benefits available to veterans.
Metrick pointed to the recent case of Christopher Crawford, 31, who was sentenced in May on fraud and related charges to six to 12 years in jail for stealing at least $17,000 from American Legion Post 568 in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Crawford allegedly used false claims to get the job as the post's executive director and misused the post's debit cards for unauthorized purchases, including trips to casinos.
He had claimed to be an Army combat veteran wounded in Iraq, but the charges showed that he had been discharged at Fort Benning, Georgia, under "less than honorable conditions" for going absent without leave during basic training.
In a statement when charges were filed in January, Lackawanna County District Attorney Mark Powell said, "The conduct alleged in this case -- masquerading as a combat veteran in order to infiltrate and steal funds from an American Legion post -- is breathtakingly brazen and unprecedented in my almost 30 years of practicing criminal law in Lackawanna County. It's an affront to every veteran."
The IG's office at NARA has put out a Facebook page with a stolen valor fact sheet -- @NARAOIGOfficeofInvestigations -- on the office's mission to expose false claims. NARA has also established a hotline -- 301-837-3500 -- for the public to report suspected cases of stolen valor.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.