Military Roll of Valor Act of 2007

From the News Story Archive

Phony veterans try to cash in on VA benefits

By Michael Hoffman - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Sep 24, 2007 11:16:48 EDT

Written in the former sailor’s cursive handwriting on his claim for mental health benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs is an elaborate story about how Larry Porter supposedly was tossed into 18 feet of water at boot camp when it was known he couldn’t swim.

“I was … told to swim or die,” wrote Porter, of Seattle. “When they pulled me out, I thought I was dead.”

He went on to tell of how he watched a civilian worker die after falling from the side of a ship in a California shipyard.

Based on these claims, Porter, who served in the Navy for 15 months in the 1970s, obtained $134,000 in VA disability benefits and $40,000 from the Social Security Administration from 1999 to 2006.

It all turned out to be false. Porter is in a jail cell serving a three-year sentence, and was forced to repay all money he accepted from VA and Social Security.

Justice Department officials in Washington state detailed Porter’s story, along with seven other people accused of — or already convicted of — being military frauds, during a news conference Friday on VA fakers.

“We take it seriously because this money is meant for veterans, not for fakers,” James O’Neill, assistant inspector general for the VA’s office of investigations, told Military Times.

“Every dollar that’s lost to a faker is one more dollar that can’t be spent on a veteran,” said O’Neill, whose office is responsible for rooting out those who defraud VA.

The news conference was held the same day that Jesse MacBeth, a former soldier who served in the Army only 44 days and didn’t finish basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., pleaded guilty to making false statements about his service and was expected to be sentenced.

MacBeth filed discharge documents with VA stating that he served three years and separated as a corporal after deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq, said Ronald Friedman, assistant U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington state. He also claimed to have earned a Purple Heart and a Ranger tab, VA officials said.

MacBeth’s VA claim was denied, but his storytelling didn’t stop there. He produced anti-war videos claiming he killed innocent Iraqis after being ordered to do so, Friedman said. The videos were translated into Arabic for Middle East audiences, Friedman said.

An alleged phony from the list, Merrick Hersey, is a fugitive after a warrant for his arrest was issued in Washington, Friedman said. Hersey is accused of filing a false military discharge document stating that he served in the Marine Corps in 1967 and 1968 to obtain VA benefits, according to VA officials.

He claimed to have earned two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star as a rifleman based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., before receiving an honorable discharge, according to the DD-214, a military discharge document, that he submitted.

There are no official records to show that Hersey ever served in the military, Friedman said.

The case against a former political official who claimed to be a prisoner of war was also spotlighted Friday.

Former Army Spc. Michael Heit, a former chairman of the Constitution Party of Montana who ran for a seat in the state legislature, pleaded guilty to two counts of filing false DD-214s to VA and the Military Order of the Purple Heart in 2005.

The forged discharge documents claimed Heit was a decorated Vietnam veteran who earned a Bronze Star with combat “V” and three Purple Hearts. He also claimed he was held prisoner by North Vietnam from 1969 to 1972.

One poser outed Friday never served a day in the military and isn’t even a U.S. citizen, said Dennis Shen, deputy district attorney for Multnomah County in Oregon.

Carlos Valle Rios, a resident alien from Peru, pleaded guilty in January to “attempted aggravated theft in the first degree by deception” for submitting a false claim to VA and discharge documents, according to court papers.

Valle Rios claimed he earned a Purple Heart from his time as a World War II pilot. He wrote in his claim that he was a member of the famed Flying Tigers who secretly flew in China against Japanese forces before the U.S. officially entered World War II.

Valle Rios, a registered sex offender, also was convicted of illegally obtaining subsidized housing in Oregon. His sentence for defrauding VA was two years’ probation, Shen said, adding that he is in the custody of Immigration Customs Enforcement and is being considered for deportation.


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