Jim Porter: Is wearing a fraudulently obtained Purple Heart a crime
October 13, 2011
TAHOE/TRUCKEE and#8212; David Perelman fraudulently obtained a Purple Heart and wore it proudly. Perelman had served in Vietnam for three months in 1971. Twenty years later he accidentally shot himself in the right thigh. He later claimed that the self-inflicted gunshot wound was a shrapnel injury suffered during his Vietnam tour. The Air Force awarded him a Purple Heart and other medals in 1994, and because of that the Veterans Administration gave Perelman more than $180,000 in disability benefits. Perelman even wore his Purple Heart to a national convention of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Stolen Valor Act
The federal Stolen Valor Act has two parts. Section 704(a) provides that and#8220;Whoever knowingly wears, purchases and#8230; imports and#8230; manufacturers, sells and#8230; any decorations or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces of the United States and#8230; shall be fined or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.and#8221;
704(b) states, and#8220;Whoever falsely represents himself or herself, verbally or in writing, to have been awarded any decorations or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces of the United States and#8230; shall be fined or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.and#8221;
Our man Perelman was charged under 704(a) for wearing the Purple Heart.
I was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor
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A little over a year ago, we wrote a column about Xavier Alvarez, who as part of a campaign to win a seat on a local water board (how desperate is that?), he told everyone he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. That was just one of a series of lies. He also rescued the American Ambassador during the Iranian hostage crisis and played hockey for the Detroit Red Wings. Whatever.
Alvarez was charged with a violation 704(b) of the Stolen Valor Act for making false statements. He got off because statements are speech and the Federal Court of Appeals determined he had a First Amendment free speech right to tell lies. I disagreed. The Alvarez case is the final word on Section 704(b): making false statements or writings about receiving military medals is completely legal. It is good law. Good or not, itand#8217;s the law.
Itand#8217;s my Purple Heart
Back to Perelman, who was charged with knowingly wearing a Purple Heart and#8212; to be distinguished from stating he was awarded a Purple Heart.
Youand#8217;re asking yourself, whatand#8217;s the difference between claiming you earned a Purple Heart and wearing a Purple Heart, itand#8217;s still deception and fraud, right? Will Perelman get off based on the Alvarez case? You would think so.
The law is tricky
The Court of Appeals analyzed Perelmanand#8217;s case, finally determining that knowingly wearing a medal that was not earned was deceptive use of military medals. Knowingly wearing an unearned medal that was not awarded is different than Alvarez telling everyone he earned the medal. That is protected speech. Per Alvarez, you canand#8217;t criminalize pure speech.
So Alvarez gets off because he said he earned his medal and Perelman gets 10 months for wearing a medal. Plus 12 months for defrauding the Veterans Administration of disability benefits, which even Perelman did not contest.
And you wonder why I have no hair: itand#8217;s trying to distinguish cases like Alvarez and Perelman, two phonies who intentionally deceived the public and#8212; one goes free and one goes to jail.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon, with offices in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe and Reno. He is a mediator and was the Governor’s appointee to the Fair Political Practices Commission and McPherson Commission, both involving election law and the Political Reform Act. He may be reached at email@example.com or at the firmand#8217;s website http://www.portersimon.com.