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Tampa man pleads not guilty to falsely wearing valor medals

TAMPA — A man accused of posing as a highly decorated war veteran pleaded not guilty to wearing military medals he did not earn in federal court Wednesday.

Angel Manuel Ocasio-Reyes, 48, was charged in December 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. Punishment could be a year in prison and a $100,000 fine for each count.

Judge Mark Pizzo set bail at $10,000 and said Ocasio-Reyes must show up at pretrial conferences, maintain employment and submit to substance-abuse testing. Ocasio-Reyes, who lives in Tampa, will be back in court in front of Judge Steven D. Merryday in March.

Ken Malone, 59, and Ken Sullens, 58, who socialized with Ocasio-Reyes at the Marine Corps League post in New Port Richey, were at the hearing.

"We want to see that this is not taken lightly," said Malone, who served in the Marines in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969.

Malone and Sullens, both Purple Heart recipients, wore vests full of military patches. Malone said Ocasio-Reyes tried to apologize to them before the hearing.

Adam Tanenbaum, an assistant federal public defender, represents Ocasio-Reyes and said this was his first day on the case. Tanenbaum said Ocasio-Reyes would not comment.

"He, like most of us, has the utmost respect for the men and women in the military," Tanenbaum said.

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.

Jared Leone can be reached at jleone@sptimes.com or (813) 226 3435.

Tampa man pleads not guilty to falsely wearing valor medals 01/20/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 11:03pm]
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