Texas man who used bogus Marine record to gain Army rank gets 6 months in prison

By Danny Robbins, AP
Friday, September 17, 2010

Texas man who duped Army gets 6 months in prison

DALLAS — The Texas man who earlier this year tricked the Army into allowing him to join the reserves as a noncommissioned officer has been sentenced to six months in prison and a bad conduct discharge, an Army spokeswoman said.

Jesse Bernard Johnston III received the punishment from a military judge on July 26 after pleading guilty to seven counts of wrongdoing. The charges stemmed from a scheme in which he used fake discharge paperwork to dupe the Army into thinking he was a decorated ex-Marine who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The falsified DD-214 form allowed Johnston, 26, to enter a reserve unit at the Fort Worth Naval Air Station at the rank of sergeant. At the time, the extent of his military experience was six weeks in a 12-week Marine officer candidate program for college students.

After repeated inquiries, The Associated Press received details of the sentence Thursday through an e-mail sent by Lisa Eichhorn, public affairs officer at Fort Rucker in Alabama. Johnston was going through training at Fort Rucker, the Army’s primary aviation center, when his scheme was uncovered.

Eichhorn said Johnston added to the deception by wearing two unearned badges and an unearned patch on his uniform at Fort Rucker.

He pleaded guilty to one count of making a false official statement, two counts of larceny, two counts of wrongfully wearing a skill badge and two counts of wrongfully wearing a combat patch.

“Pfc. Johnston’s sentence was the result of his decision to unlawfully take credit for honors that other soldiers have worked so hard to rightfully earn,” Eichhorn wrote.

The scheme, first reported by the AP in May, prompted the Army to adopt a new procedure for checking the backgrounds of enlistees who claim prior military service. The procedure requires recruiters to verify discharge papers through a military database.

Experts who track cases of so-called “stolen valor” say the incident is the first in which the Army recruiting process was scammed. They say the matter is particularly serious because of the security concerns raised by an unqualified soldier holding a leadership position in war time.

While at Fort Rucker, Johnston received advanced training for use with the Army’s Corps Support Airplane Company. That unit, based in Fort Worth, has supplied pilots and intelligence and support personnel for missions aimed at destroying improvised explosive devices in Iraq.

Army Secretary John M. McHugh, in a July 19 letter to U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, said military authorities acted “swiftly and appropriately” once they suspected that Johnston had never been a Marine. McHugh described himself as “deeply troubled” by the incident but said he did not consider it a sign of a more serious problem in the recruiting process.

“We believe that this is an isolated incident and not a larger systematic failure,” he wrote.

Coffman, a member of the House Armed Services Committee who served with the Marines in Iraq and the first Gulf War, provided McHugh’s letter to the AP. The Colorado Republican has been seeking details about the matter since the AP first reported on it.

A spokesman for Coffman said Friday that the congressman remains concerned about the national security implications of the matter and is continuing to seek information about it.

Doug Sterner, a Vietnam veteran whose work has exposed numerous military impostors, said a photo obtained by the AP in May showing Johnston in a Marine uniform with a series of medals, including a Purple Heart and the rare Navy and Marine Corps Medal, could merit further prosecution in federal court.

“The military charges against Johnston may address the fraud at enlistment, but they don’t address his earlier fraud as a civilian,” Sterner said.

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