TAMPA — Angel Manuel Ocasio-Reyes has learned the price of lying.
Six months after he was charged with wearing military medals and decorations he did not receive, the Tampa resident apologized in federal court Monday.
"I never meant to hurt anyone," Ocasio-Reyes said. "I'm so ashamed that I will live with this for the rest of my life. … I regret it every day."
U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark A. Pizzo sentenced Ocasio-Reyes to three years' probation for violating the Stolen Valor Act. He could have faced a year in prison and a $100,000 fine for each of three counts — falsely wearing medals, falsely representing himself to have been awarded decorations and medals, and falsely altering a discharge certificate from naval service.
Pizzo said prison would not be a worthwhile punishment for Ocasio-Reyes, and instead ordered him to perform 120 hours of community service, preferably with veterans groups.
Ocasio-Reyes sought membership in veterans organizations such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign War, flaunting a variety of medals he claimed to have received, including a Purple Heart and Navy Cross. He had many stories to tell about his military accomplishments.
Before announcing the sentence, Pizzo spoke about the history of the Navy Cross, noting that only a few thousand who set themselves apart in perilous situations have received it since the honor was created in 1919.
Defense attorney Adam Benjamin Allen told the court that Ocasio-Reyes' actions, though wrong, did not intend to make light of the military's contribution and sacrifices.
"Imitation is one of the highest forms of flattery," Allen said. "He always wished he had been in the military. … It was not his intent to dishonor anybody."
Allen said Ocasio-Reyes, who recently got a job as a forklift operator, has been chastised by his friends, colleagues and family members — including his father, who was in the military.
"He has been truly punished," Allen said.
But not everyone thought the sentence was appropriate or sufficient.
Jack Skelding, 69, who served in the Marine Corps from 1958 to 1985 and was present in court along with several other veterans, said he was disappointed with the sentence.
"It wasn't severe enough," he said, noting that Ocasio-Reyes should have had to spend at least a year in jail. "I'm not very satisfied."
Referring to Pizzo's recommendation that Ocasio-Reyes volunteer with veterans organizations, some former military members said no veterans would want to be served by a man who tried to fool them.
Mike Dellavecchia, 61, who was in the Marine Corps from 1968 to 1969, said the sentence was too lenient given the gravity of the offense.
"He just got slapped on the hand," Dellavecchia said, shaking his head.
This is not Ocasio-Reyes's first run-in with the law. On Aug. 8, 2007, he was arrested on a charge of possessing drug paraphernalia and released five days later. About two months later, he was arrested again for violating probation.
Nandini Jayakrishna can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.