TAMPA — The fake Marine Corps hero finally surrendered Friday in U.S. District Court.
Angel Manuel Ocasio-Reyes, a 48-year-old civilian from Lutz, pleaded guilty to violating the Stolen Valor Act, bringing to an ignoble end his months of strutting around in a sergeant major's uniform bedecked with the Navy Cross, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Combat Action Medal, Iraq and Afghanistan campaign medals, and several others.
Ocasio-Reyes was arrested in December on three counts: falsely wearing the medals, falsely representing himself as having been awarded decorations and medals, and falsely altering a military discharge form.
Punishment could be a year in jail and a $100,000 fine on each count, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark A. Pizzo reminded Ocasio-Reyes that those guidelines are only advisory. He set sentencing at 10 a.m. June 21.
The Stolen Valor Act was passed in 2006 to impose harsher penalties for fraudulently wearing medals. Previous law punished only people falsely wearing the highest award, the Medal of Honor.
The Navy Cross ranks just below the Medal of Honor in distinction, and the Purple Heart recognizes those wounded or killed in combat.
This is the fourth time in 12 months someone has been prosecuted under the Stolen Valor Act by the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Middle District of Florida.
Roger Golden is the commandant at the Marine Corps League in New Port Richey where Ocasio-Reyes tried to gain membership last year. Golden was in the courtroom wearing a pressed, white uniform. Across his chest were the medals he earned while serving in Vietnam from 1963 to 1967.
Golden said Ocasio-Reyes came to the Marine Corps League post dressed to the hilt and that other club members took him in as one of their own.
But something made Golden suspicious, and he checked a listing of award recipients on the militarytimes.com Web site, and Ocasio-Reyes did not show up. After that, the story unraveled.
"This guy is a wannabe," Golden said after hearing the guilty plea. "He is slapping everybody in the face."
Ken Malone, 59, and Ken Sullens, 58, socialized with Ocasio-Reyes at the Marine Corps League post in New Port Richey. They also attended the court hearing. Both are Purple Heart recipients, and they wore vests full of military patches.
Sullens and Golden said they would be back in June.
"We have been following this from the beginning," Sullens said.
Jared Leone can be reached at (813) 226-3435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.