Tall Tale or Felony Crime? Colorado Man Charged With “Stolen Valor” After Making Up Heroic Stories

strandlof-richRichard Strandlof lived a life of distinction. He spoke to children and the media as a survivor first of the attack on the Pentagon on 9/11 and then survived a roadside bomb that killed four fellow Marines. He will now add a further distinction as a defendant in a rare “stolen valor” prosecution after his claims of service were proven false.


Federal prosecutors have charged Strandlof, 32, with “for false claims about receipt of military decorations or medals” in Denver, Colorado — a crime punishable by one year incarceration and a $100,000 fine.

He later admitted on CNN that it was all a lie.

The Stolen Valor Act was only passed in 2005. The law actually distinguishes between the medals claimed. You can receive six months for “falsely represent[ing], verbally or in writing, to have been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the armed forces of the United States, or any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, or the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration or medal, or any colorable imitation thereof.” However, you can receive a year “[i]f a decoration or medal involved in an offense under subsection (a) or (b) is a Distinguished Service Cross awarded under Section 3742 of title 10, an Air Force Cross awarded under section 8742 of section 10, a Navy cross awarded under section 6242 of title 10, a silver star awarded under section 3746, 6244, or 8746 of title 10, or a Purple Heart awarded under section 1129 of title 10, or any replacement or duplicate medal as authorized by statute. . .”

50274_270Anthony_Calderone_800_287The case comes closest to the Maj. Anthony Angelo Calderone in 2007 (on right). There is also the case of David McClanahan(on left), who was also charged under the new law.

The crime of stolen valor is a bit of a curiosity. There is no question that you can be prosecuted for lying to obtain benefits or property in the form of fraud, conspiracy and other crimes. Such cases usually have conventional false statements or fraud elements linked to the claim of service, as here and here and here.

However, what about just talking big about your past in the military? From pick-up bars to fishing shacks, men have been known to exaggerate and outright lie about their pasts. However, if you include military honors, it can be a crime, as in this case. I must admit to be a bit troubled by the line drawn here. We have had high-ranking officials who have been found to have lied about the details of their service — wearing unearned ribbons or medals. Even Gen. Petraeus has been accused of medal improprieties, here. We have even seen people who make up stories like Strandlof but are not charged. These cases can produce a disturbing level of arbitrary enforcement and vagueness as to when it is a crime and when it is a tall tale.

We have seen courts martial charges for active service members who falsify documents and wear unearned medals, here. Others have simply been allowed to retire, as here.

Members of Congress have been challenged on exaggerating their military career, here.

There is obviously little sympathy with these people. However, it does present some intriguing questions when the claims are not used to secure benefits or money. Can you really steal “valor” in the same sense of property? The law actually distinguishes between medals like theft and grand theft. In other areas, people cannot be charged for simply claiming to have cancer or inspiring lives if they do not use the false claims to extract money. Here you have people extracting fame but not necessarily property. Is it still theft? What do you think?

For the full story, click here.

19 thoughts on “Tall Tale or Felony Crime? Colorado Man Charged With “Stolen Valor” After Making Up Heroic Stories

  1. Oh my and then all the bars shut down and everyone told the truth from that day on…..

    I wonder how many men really were on the Enola Gay? Truth now USArmy Army Air Corp.

  2. I find this a foolish law and a foolish prosecution. If there ever was a victim-less crime this is it. So he made the talk show rounds and talked to kids about valor. Big deal! Soon they’ll be prosecuting James Thurber (posthumously, of course) for writing “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” One wonders how Bush escapes scrutiny after his purported stint keeping the skies above Mobile safe.

  3. mespo,

    I have to agree with you on all aspects of this. Who is the victim in the case? If so, circus’s would be closed to wit: P.T. Barnum. Government would cease operation(s). They just hate competition How well can we lie, cheat and steel? and in Texas we will put you to death before you can find out

    Most Government employees would be dismissed for theft of services. Notice I did not say workers. The Government has many employees but very few workers.

    Now George keeping the air space safe over Mobil. Excuse me but the Issues I have with this, was he not commissioned to the Texas Air National Guard? I guess he was lost in space!!!!

  4. Speaking as a soldier and combat veteran, the victims of these crimes are usually the people who feel compelled to give time, property, and money to veterans. They are victims of fraud, and I suppose that they could be simply prosecuted as such with the fake vet routine being the method of the fraud, but the problem is that many times people give veterans things that are intangible but still valuable, like the aforementioned time.
    I’ve never been awarded a medal for an individual act of valor, and that’s OK with me. Such medals are awarded, more often than not, to somebody who is missing friends and limbs, if not one’s life.
    Having spent twenty-one years in the Army, I can’t see why anybody would pretend to be Soldier. I really can’t. I should think people would be more interested in pretending to be prestigious law school professors, but there you are.

  5. If this man obtained funds fraudulently through these claims then there would be grounds for prosecution via criminal/civil fraud statutes. What the purpose of incarcerating him for any period of time would serve, provided he had not obtained funds falsely, is quite beyond me. This is bad law and given its’ date of passage was the work of a hypocritical congress, in concert with a hypocritical administration. My belief is that most of the people who had a hand in this legislation had committed far more harmful fraud than this pathetic character. The revelation of the lies and the resultant humiliation seems punishment enough.

  6. soonergrunt:

    I certainly would understand if he was parlaying this lie into a profit, but there is no evidence of that here, and there are already laws on the books to handle that larceny by trick or fraud. I am talking about criminalizing b.s. which we all know if ever came about, would land most all in the hoosegow.

  7. AY:

    “Excuse me but the Issues I have with this, was he not commissioned to the Texas Air National Guard? I guess he was lost in space!!!!”

    ********************

    After joining the Texas Air Guard, our erstwhile Presidente’ sought and obtained a transfer to the 9921st Air Reserve Squadron in Montgomery, Alabama, ostensibly to work on a political campaign. No one remembers him there either. That was the oblique allusion.

  8. watching that video, I think he has paid a pretty stiff price. He is now branded a liar a charlaton and mentally ill. The secondhandedness of this is appalling, unearned esteem is no esteem at all. What a worm.

  9. This is absolutely a crime. I’ve never been awarded a medal for valor, but I recognize one when I see it. I know what a silver star stands for, and the sacrifice that the recipient was willing to make – even if the individual did not actually lose his or her life or limbs. Such an individual has displayed traits of character that we in the military respect and should strive to emulate. Certainly, a recipient of a medal may have many other character traits that shouldn’t be emulated; I’m not saying heroes are necessarily saints.

    However, the concept of valor is an important one and should be considered alongside reputation. By lying and “stealing” the valor and respect that accompany a military decoration, the perpetrator does more than tell a tall tale and wear a colored-silk ribbon that he or she paid for, fair and square. That individual diminishes the significance of that decoration; essentially defaming every recipient of the award by calling into question *their* qualifications to the award.

    It seems that many of you think it’s silly to show respect for the sacrifices of our military servicemembers with colored ribbons and the occasional free beverage, and that it’s no big deal for anyone to pretend to join their ranks. My question for you then is, how do we as a society show our appreciation and recognize that these few who have given much are heroes?

  10. “My question for you then is, how do we as a society show our appreciation and recognize that these few who have given much are heroes?”

    AdBellum,
    We show our appreciation not by awarding ribbons or medals but by taking care of them when they return from war. By providing education, jobs, health care and treatment for those damages by PTSD. By being compassionate to them after the medals ceremonies.
    By ensuring that the families of those killed are taken care of well and kept for poverty.

    The Republicans who passed this bill kept talking a good game of honoring our troops, but also tried to cut benefits, close VA facilities, pay billion$ to defense contractors that electrocuted soldiers in their showers and fed them spoiled water and food. They didn’t provide them with proper weaponry, armament or safe vehicles. Honoring our troops means action, not speeches from a bunch of draft dodgers, who really were contemptuous of our troops. So did you vote for Bush twice, while talking about honoring our troops? If you did, you did nothing to honor them.

  11. ADBellum:

    “By lying and “stealing” the valor and respect that accompany a military decoration, the perpetrator does more than tell a tall tale and wear a colored-silk ribbon that he or she paid for, fair and square. That individual diminishes the significance of that decoration; essentially defaming every recipient of the award by calling into question *their* qualifications to the award.”

    “It seems that many of you think it’s silly to show respect for the sacrifices of our military servicemembers with colored ribbons and the occasional free beverage, and that it’s no big deal for anyone to pretend to join their ranks. My question for you then is, how do we as a society show our appreciation and recognize that these few who have given much are heroes?”

    *************

    Yours is the classic non-sequitur. It simply does not follow that my illicit invocation of praise for my deeds diminishes your valid accomplishments. Honor is not a finite concept lest we have a quota for winners of military recognition or societal accolades which we clearly do not. You represent that segment of society that thinks by lighting another’s candle you diminish your own. A six year old with a birthday cake knows better.

    Mike S has answered your question better than I could have hoped, but one question remains of you: Where did you get the notion that any of us deprecated the service or sacrifice of real heroes? I think your prejudice is showing.

  12. I’m a combat veteran (Vietnam) and a lawyer. I do not see why such a law would not pass constitutional scrutiny. If we can have laws against hate crime speech it would seem that we can have a stolen valor law. By the way I believe the law comes, at least indirectly, from the seminal book “Stolen Valor” by B. G. (Bug) Burkett and Glenna Whitley. Great read.

    We are a republic and our representative decided it was serious enough to pass a law. It is as if we shook hands and said only those who are awarded the ribons and medals can use them. That’s good enough for me. We have an agreement. Those who argue there are no victims fail to understand dilution.

    One more point. Of interest to me is that when I got back from Vietnam, few of us even wanted to admit that. There was a lot of prejudice against us, so mostly we just kept quiet. Now we find people claiming to be Vietnam vets who were never there. What a turn around. Tim

  13. This law is clearly unconstitutional. To me, it clearly violates the first amendment. The fact that our representatives made it a law has no bearing on its constitutionality. That’s for the courts to decide. Unless these guys use this misrepresentation to commit fraud, it is merely BS, and if BS’ing were a crime we’d all be in jail.

    Our army is an important part of our society, and one that provides us the opportunity to pursue our dreams without serious threats from abroad. We can honor them better, as Mike S. said, by taking care of them when they leave the service. We have a highly jingoistic element in our society that wants to emphasize valor, honor and sacrifice for its own purposes, that of keeping America a bully that will threaten to use, and actually use, its military might to force other countries to our bidding. This law is the result of that jingoism.

  14. Mr. Turley this is not a felony. You stated that in your headline above and in your interview with NPR Talk of the Nation. You do know the difference…..right?

  15. I am a protector of the rights of the citizens of this Country. I am very offended that someone would take a medal or a story from my brothers and try to make it their own. Very well lets not make it a crime, lets make it a public display put their face on billboards and on the internet and TV let everyone see them. Then see how well they are treated and the jobs thay can get.

  16. Victim-less? What about service men and women who have given or risked their lives to this country, only to have some wannabe lessen the honor? They aren’t victims. It makes someone who has worked for their medals and wears them proudly fall under scrutiny by everyone, wondering if they are a fraud or not.

  17. Randy Macoon “This law is clearly unconstitutional. To me, it clearly violates the first amendment.”

    Sorry, Randy, but this is wrong. The first amendment protects the right to free speech, but this right does not extend to false statements.

    “As the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals recently noted in a different Stolen Valor Act challenge, ‘The Supreme Court has observed time and again, false statements of fact do not enjoy constitutional protection, except to the extent necessary to protect more valuable speech. Under this principle, the Stolen Valor Act does not impinge on or chill protected speech, and therefore does not offend the First Amendment.'”

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