A New Mexico man was sentenced last week to six months in prison after he pleaded guilty to falsely claiming to be a decorated combat veteran and to being a felon in possession of firearms.
Anthony Gambino told the Albuquerque federal court that he fraudulently claimed to be a recipient of a Marine Corps Combat Action Ribbon and a Purple Heart, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release.
Falsely claiming to be a decorated combat veteran became a federal crime when then-President Barack Obama signed the Stolen Valor Act in 2013. The law states it is "a federal crime for an individual to fraudulently hold oneself out to be a recipient of any of several specified military decorations or medals with the intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefits."
Gambino, who was arrested in May 2016, also received three years of supervised release after he completes his prison sentence.
According to the DOJ release, Gambino was prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition because he previously had been convicted of commercial burglary, failure to appear, and menacing involving a deadly weapon.
What's the story?
Gambino fraudulently enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps under his brother's name, according to the Daily Times. He was discharged from the Marine Corps eight months later after it was discovered he had fraudulently enlisted.
The 45-year-old was never in combat and was never awarded the Purple Heart or the Marine Corps Combat Action Ribbon, the Daily Times reported.
Gambino owned a security company and represented himself as a combat veteran. He produced commercial videos and photos for his company, Gambino Security Safety Corp. The videos showed him armed with a rifle, holstered side arms and handguns, according to the release.
In 2015, according to the Daily Times, Gambino's company was contracted by the San Juan County Sheriff's office to produce a training video for the department's SWAT team.
The sheriff's office launched an investigation after it received information about Gambino's convictions, which led to his arrest. The San Juan County Sheriff's Office and the Homeland Security Investigations unit of the United States Department of Homeland Security investigated the case.
What's being done to stop stolen valor?
There are some organizations, such as Guardian of Valor, that are trying to stop people from posing as veterans, according to WTVT-TV.
Anthony Anderson, a decorated U.S. Army veteran who served in Afghanistan and runs the Guardian of Valor website, is catching veteran impersonators and exposing them, WTVT reported.
"We've got them to where they'll just go in the airport to put on a uniform and have people walk up and say 'Thank you for your service,’" Anderson told WJZY-TV. "And then we have those that go as far as to actually steal money from the VA, from different organizations."
Guardian of Valor takes tips from whistleblowers, then it launches an investigation. Once its certain someone has fraudulently represented themselves as a veteran, the organization posts a video of the person on its website.
Why does this story matter?
There are many people making false claims about their military service. Sometimes, they use their fake rank to take advantage of programs and organizations that benefit veterans.
"It's like you're not slapping not only us in the face but our fallen comrades," Anderson told WJZY.