TAMPA — Angel Manuel Ocasio-Reyes looked the part of the combat hero. A chest full of ribbons and medals. And discharge papers as proof.
There seemed no need to question him when he walked into the Marine Corps League in New Port Richey last year. At least that is what Roger Golden, the post commandant, thought.
"Everything looked cozy. We had no reason to doubt him," Golden said. "He had a good line of bull."
In December, authorities charged Angel Manuel Ocasio-Reyes, 48, under the Stolen Valor Act. He faces three counts: falsely wearing medals authorized by Congress, falsely representing himself to have been awarded decorations and medals, and falsely altering a military discharge form. The maximum punishment is a year in prison and a $100,000 fine for each count. His trial is set for 10 a.m. today in federal court.
The Stolen Valor Act was passed in 2006 to impose harsher penalties on congressional medal counterfeiters. Previous law punished only people falsely wearing the Medal of Honor. 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.
Further legislation, now stalled in the House, could create a searchable government database of congressional award recipients.
A March 2009 Defense Department report questioned the feasibility of such a database. The report noted the legal pitfalls of publishing identifying information like Social Security numbers. And the list would not be complete because a 1973 fire destroyed 16 to 18 million personnel service records.
A "sufficiently complete" database could be created for about $250,000 but would include only recipients of the Silver Star and higher awards given out since Sept. 11, 2001.
Already, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society of the United States keeps a searchable database of Medal of Honor recipients. The group lists 3,446.
Doug Sterner, an advocate for creating the national database, created an unofficial one now published on the militarytimes.com Web site. It includes 29,093 names of award recipients, including the Silver Star and the Navy Cross.
Golden said he searched for Ocasio-Reyes on one of the medal databases. The name did not show up.
"They do have a resource out there. He was not in it," Golden said.
If Ocasio-Reyes is found guilty of violating the Stolen Valor Act, Golden doesn't think three years and $300,000 in fines is punishment enough.
"They don't give that stuff away," said Golden, who served in the Marines in Vietnam from 1963 to 1967. "Most of the people who get ribbons like that are post-mortem. They had to die to get them."
Jared Leone can be reached at (813) 226-3435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.