Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Widow of war hero accused of taking money, gift cards from Kmart

Birgit Smith was married to Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith, who died outside Baghdad.


Birgit Smith was married to Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith, who died outside Baghdad.

HOLIDAY — Her husband's name means something around here.

It's memorialized on middle schools in Holiday and Tampa. It's been lauded by a U.S. president. It's on a list of recipients of the Medal of Honor, an award seldom bestowed and only for the most valorous acts in the armed services.

Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith.

His widow, Birgit Smith, fears her arrest last week may tarnish that good name.

Smith was accused of taking money and gift cards from the New Port Richey Kmart where she worked. Police charged her Wednesday with scheming to defraud. She spent the night in jail until she came up with $1,000 to post bail.

Smith, 46, said she was shocked when officers showed up. She said she was never trying to steal from her employer.

She said she processed $153.73 in refunds for herself — even though doing so is against store policy — because no other employees were around to help. Kmart officials believe she never returned the goods. Smith said the merchandise is back on the shelves.

The four gift cards, worth a total of $20, were in the store's lost-and-found bin, destined for the trash, she said. So she took the cards and spent them on a lottery ticket.

She admits she violated store policies. Firing her should be enough, she said. Arresting her was too harsh, she said.

A spokesman for Sears Holdings, which owns Kmart, wrote the following:

"Our process is to provide information to the local authorities, who decide whether or not to prosecute based on the evidence."

Smith said walking out of the store escorted by a deputy was humiliating.

"I do get a pension from my husband," she said. "I'm not poor."

"This is like a nightmare," she added.

Smith lost her husband nearly a decade ago, when his troop was ambushed by 100 Iraqi soldiers outside the Saddam International Airport in Baghdad.

He climbed onto an armored vehicle and used a machine gun to hold off the Iraqi soldiers while his men withdrew. He died in the fight.

His story was chronicled in the Tampa Bay Times. Two years after Smith's death, President George W. Bush presented the family with the Medal of Honor. Smith became the first serviceman in the Iraq war to receive the award.

Because of her husband's service and his award, people recognized Smith at Kmart and stopped to chat, she said. She doesn't want them to associate any part of him with her arrest.

"It's killing me," she said. "What I got accused of, that should be on me. It's not fair to my children, and it's not fair to Paul's name."

While she talked, she lifted a hand to dry her eyes, showing her glistening engagement ring. Further up her arm, her husband's name appears again: on her shoulder, inscribed in ink, encircled by a heart.

Alex Orlando can be reached at or (727) 869-6247.

Widow of war hero accused of taking money, gift cards from Kmart 01/14/13 [Last modified: Monday, January 14, 2013 9:54pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bucs' Demar Dotson should be back from injury next week


    The Bucs got good news on starting right tackle Demar Dotson, whose MRI showed only a mild right groin sprain and should be back at practice next week.

    Bucs tackle Demar Dotson, shown last year when he signed a three-year contract extension, should only miss a week of practice with his groin injury and can return healthy for the Bucs' season opener at Miami in three weeks. [Octavio Jones | Times]
  2. Comedy legend Jerry Lewis dead at 91


    LOS ANGELES — Jerry Lewis, the manic, rubber-faced showman who jumped and hollered to fame in a lucrative partnership with Dean Martin, settled down to become a self-conscious screen auteur and found an even greater following as the tireless, teary host of the annual muscular dystrophy telethons, has died. He was …

    In this Sept. 2, 1990, file photo, entertainer Jerry Lewis makes his opening remarks at the 25th Anniversary of the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon fundraiser in Los Angeles. Lewis, the comedian whose fundraising telethons became as famous as his hit movies, has died according to his publicist. [Associated Press]
  3. Mastermind of lottery rigging scam that netted millions faces 25 years


    DES MOINES, Iowa — For a decade, computer programmer Eddie Tipton reliably showed up for work at the central Iowa office of the Multi-State Lottery Association and earned the confidence of his co-workers, a team of technicians entrusted to build computers used to randomly pick numbers for some of the most popular …

    FILE - In this June 29, 2017, file photo, Eddie Tipton, the former Multi-State Lottery Association information security director who admitted to masterminding a scheme to rig lottery games that paid him and others $2 million from seven fixed jackpots in five states, is seen in court in Des Moines, Iowa. Tipton is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday, Aug. 22. (Rodney White/The Des Moines Register via AP, File) IADES501
  4. Pasco County man killed in wrong-way crash on New Jersey Turnpike


    MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. — Authorities say a Florida man driving the wrong way on the New Jersey Turnpike was killed when his SUV crashed head-on into another vehicle.

  5. No bond for suspect in Kissimmee officers' fatal shooting


    KISSIMMEE — A suspect in the fatal shooting of two police officers in Florida will be staying in jail after a judge denied him bond Sunday, saying there was probable cause for his first-degree murder charge

    Officers Matthew Baxter, left, and Sam Howard, right, who were both shot and killed in Kissimmee, Florida, on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. [Kissimmee Police]