Medal of Honor fakes outnumber heroes, says FBI investigator

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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) – A proliferation of phony heroes is prompting such groups as The Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation to lobby for tougher laws to punish the impostors.

The organization reports that there are 113 living recipients of the nation’s highest military award, but an FBI agent who tracks the fakes said impostors outnumber the true heroes.

“There are more and more of these impostors, and they are literally stealing the valor and acts of valor of the real guys,” said Agent Tom Cottone, who also works on an FBI violent crime squad in West Paterson, N.J.

Some fakers merely brag about receiving the award – and that’s not illegal – but some impostors wear military uniforms and bogus medals. The FBI has about 25 pending investigations of such phony heroes, said Cottone.

Anyone convicted of fraudulently wearing the Medal of Honor faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine. But there’s no such penalty for other medals.

The Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation and other veterans groups are looking to change that. They’ve enlisted the help of U.S. Rep. John T. Salazar, D-Colo., who is sponsoring the Stolen Valor Act to penalize distributors of phony medals and those who pretend to be decorated veterans.

Salazar’s legislation would make it illegal to make a false public claim to be a recipient of any military valor award, such as the Medal of Honor, a Silver Star or Purple Heart.

“It is about more than punishing people,” said Salazar. “It’s about preserving the history and honor of those medals.”

World War II Medal of Honor recipient Charles Coolidge of Signal Mountain, Tenn., got flimflammed out of his medal – at a military reunion of all places – when someone offered to help recondition it and gave him back a fake version of the award.

Cottone tracked down Coolidge’s real Medal of Honor from a man who was selling and trading medals in Ohio.

“It was a big surprise to me to get it back,” said Coolidge, 84.

Coolidge received the Medal of Honor for leading an outnumbered section of heavy machine guns during four days of fighting against German infantry and tanks in France in 1944.

Cottone said he recovered two fake Medals of Honor at a New Jersey gun show. Both were made by HLI Lordship Industries Inc., a former government contractor for the Medal of Honor.

The company, based in Hauppauge, N.Y., was fined $80,000 in 1996 and placed on probation after admitting 300 fakes were sold in the early 1990s for $75 each.

“If we don’t maintain the integrity of these military awards, the real ones won’t mean anything,” Cottone said.



On The Net:

Congressional Medal of Honor Society: www.cmoh.org/medal.htm

Home of Heroes: www.homeofheroes.com

Stolen Valor Act: www.house.gov/salazar/stolen%20Valor.shtml

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