Veteran Convicted of Stolen Valor and Scamming More than $700K


By Debbie Gregory.

It’s a sad fact, but fraud involving the veteran community is on the rise.

In just a 6-month period last year, the VA’s Office of Inspector General reported that it recovered $2.9 million in restitution, fines and penalties relating to fraud.

But in a “this-one-takes-the-cake” case, standout fraudster Darryl Wright, a former Idaho National Guardsman, scammed more than $700,000 in benefits. His deception further included supposed injuries that resulted in Wright being awarded the Army’s Combat Action Badge and a Purple Heart.

“Darryl Lee Wright built an entire myth system on these two awards, relying on them to obtain every possible benefit that might be available to a wounded veteran,” assistant U.S. attorneys David Reese Jennings and Gregory Gruber wrote in a sentencing memo.

Wright represented that he was so severely disabled by PTSD symptoms that he spent two-to-five days a week in bed, in a fetal position; he had a caregiver, a house cleaner, and yard worker; he could not prepare his own meals; he could not take public transportation or be in crowds; he could walk only fifty meters; and his attention span was only five to ten seconds.”

So imagine how shocking it was to catch Wright doing yard work, playing in a recreational basketball league and coaching a high school team. He was also a member of an emergency response team that responded to fires and conducted searches and rescues in Snoqualmie, Washington. He had a “sport” membership at a local country club. Wright was also a board member for a hospital foundation and ran unsuccessfully for political office.

Stolen valor is just plain disgusting. It siphons vital benefits from veterans who truly need it.Wright hurt the heroes who fully deserve recognition, respect, and honor.

“I made several poor decisions that adversely affected my family,” Wright said in a statement sent to the Snoqualmie Valley Record.

Wright was sentenced to three years in prison and stripped of his medals.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Stolen Valor Forces Honor Guard Group to Shut Down

Wright stollen

By Debbie Gregory.

Do the ends justify the means? The question is usually considered when it comes to premeditated voluntary actions of questionable ethics taken with a defined objective in mind.

Take the case of  Papotia Reginald Wright, an alleged retired Green Beret command sergeant major who started the 8th Special Forces Regiment New York Honor Guard to perform burial services for veterans.

A noble goal, to be sure. The problem is that Wright was a total fraud. Although he did serve in the Army, he never served in any combat role, never was awarded a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star or any of the other 19 medals, badges or tabs he claimed to have been awarded.

Wright’s lies allowed him to become a prominent figure in the local military community. It gave him entrance to swanky galas and even field access to the New York Giants. But under the Stolen Valor Act, it’s a federal crime to lie about military heroics for monetary or other tangible benefits. And it’s just wrong, wrong, wrong!

Wright was exposed after the Guardians of the Green Beret, a watchdog group that works to expose people pretending to be part of Special Forces, was alerted by another watchdog group called Guardian of Valor that Wright was exaggerating his military service to promote the 8th Special Forces Regiment New York Honor Guard.

What was the one dead giveaway that Wright was an imposter? The beret he wore was black.

Papotia Reginald Wright can now take his place in the Guardians of the Green Beret Hall of Fakes, Frauds, and Phonies.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Serial Fraudster Arrested for Stolen Valor- Again!


By Debbie Gregory.

You would have thought that spending a few years in federal prison sentence for impersonating military personnel would have taught Kyle Barwan a lesson. But apparently, he’s a slow learner.

Already wanted in Florida on several “stolen valor” charges, 27-year-old Barwan was arrested in Ayer, Massachusetts, after a roommate followed up on another one of Barwan’s suspicious tales.

Barwan, formerly of Polk County, Florida, had relocated to Ayer and was living with a roommate.

Suspicious of Barwan’s claims, the roommate turned amateur detective and found that Barwan had not only been arrested several times for stolen valor, but also had a nationwide warrant out for his arrest.

On September 29th, Barwan was again arrested and held without bail. He will be returned to Florida sometime in this month.

Barwan was previously arrested in 2010 in Vincennes, Indiana and charged with impersonating an officer and possession of cocaine. He was convicted of both offenses and sentenced to 18 months.

Then, in 2012, he was arrested again in Kentucky for impersonating an Army Chief Warrant Officer with intent to defraud. He was sentenced to serve 16 months in prison, followed by one year of probation.

Barwan’s run-in with the law in Florida occurred in January, when he told a woman on the online dating service “Plenty of Fish” that he was a military officer who had served five years in Afghanistan and England, claiming he had been shot in the face while storming a building.

Barwan allegedly asked the victim for money. She became suspicious, and went to the police.

When news broke of his arrest was released, several more victims came forward.

Barwan was enlisted in the Army National Guard of Kentucky in 2007, but was discharged in 2008 in less than 180 days for failing to meet medical procurement standards.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Purple Heart Faker Got VA Benefits & House


By Debbie Gregory.

An attack of appendicitis while serving in the military doesn’t earn you any benefits or accolades. So, in a case of stolen valor, former Marine Brandon Blackstone used another Marine’s combat story to get years of disability benefits and a free house.

In 2004, Blackstone served with 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment out of Twentynine Palms, CA. So did Casey Owens. Both men deployed to Iraq.

Casey was critically injured and lost his legs when his Humvee hit an anti-tank mine. He committed suicide in 2014 after a decade of suffering from numerous surgeries, brain injury and severe pain.

Although he may have actually witnessed the event, Blackstone wasn’t ever injured in Iraq. But he was evacuated with appendicitis. Owens’ Marine buddies say they believe Blackstone took key details of Owens’ combat injury and made them his own so he could bilk the government and charities out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In a rare prosecution, Blackstone has been handed a 21-month federal sentence for faking a Purple Heart and he will also have to pay back more than $300,000 to the U.S. government and a Texas charity.

Blackstone claimed he had a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder after “his” Humvee hit a mine in Iraq.

After receiving a 100% disability rating, Blackstone began receiving disability benefits from the VA, which he received for nine years. Claiming to have a Purple Heart, Blackstone was also awarded free house from the Military Warriors Support Foundation.

Blackstone immersed himself in the veteran community. But that proved to be his undoing when other 7/1 Marines exposed him as a fraud.

Blackstone pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of fraudulent representation about the receipt of a military decoration for financial gain.

Justin Sparks, Blackstone’s defense lawyer, disagreed that Blackstone was stealing Casey Owens’ story, and claimed that his client was diagnosed with PTSD and suffered a head injury in Iraq, just not in combat. He also said that a higher-ranking Marine “informally” awarded Blackstone a Purple Heart medal, but it wasn’t an official award.

“Brandon never claimed his lost his legs,” Sparks said. “The only common elements in the two stories are PTSD, the Purple Heart and head injuries. There must be at least 1,000-plus soldiers who have those three things.”

At the end of the day, what Blackstone did was disgraceful.

A Puzzle? Or Stolen Valor? Military Connection

Purple Heart

By Debbie Gregory.

John James Lavoie served in the U.S. Marine Corps for over 20 years, and that is certainly something to be proud of. But there’s a possibility that it wasn’t enough for him as he is now in the position of having to clear his name.

Lavoie has been accused of “Stolen Valor,” which refers to non-veterans donning veterans’ gear or service members wearing medals they did not earn.

Lavoie wears a Purple Heart Medal, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star. But according to the National Archives in St. Louis, his service records do not confirm that he was awarded any of them.

Further complicating the matter, Lavoie’s service records that he has in his possession are completely different from his service records from the National Archives.

The DD 214 verifies service history, and the DD 215 usually corrects any minor mistakes on the DD214. But why there’s a difference between what’s recorded in the archives and what’s documented on Lavoie’s DD 214 and DD215 is puzzling, if the document are genuine.

The red flags? There are a few:

  • Lavoie’s DD215 is dated Feb. 25, 1993.However, the characters used on the DD 215 to write the date, as well as list all the medals, were written in a font, Calibri, that didn’t even exist until 2004.
  • Lavoie’s name is misspelled at the top of the document. A misspelled name would render the form nearly useless if a veteran attempted to use it to obtain veterans benefits like the GI Bill, or Department of Veterans Affairs benefits.
  • Every acronym listing Lavoie’s medals is wrong: the Silver Star listed as SST, the Bronze Star listed as BSw/v, the Vietnam Service Medal as VMS. The Marine Corps Individual Records Administration Manual lists the Silver Star as SSM, the Bronze Star with Valor as BSMV, and the Vietnam Service Medal as VSM

The issue of stolen valor has risen to the forefront in the military and veterans community. Photos and videos of those caught fraudulently wearing uniforms or military awards regularly make the rounds on veteran websites and Facebook feeds, prompting disdain and anger among those who served. Stolen valor is especially important to them because many knew friends who died earning the same medals the impostors wear dishonestly.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Stolen Valor & False Accusations: Military Connection


By Debbie Gregory.

On Memorial Day, Robert D. Ford took part in a wreath-laying ceremony in Pennsylvania. The 75-year-old wore his Marine dress uniform and played a bugle. Afterwards, Ford attended Artsfest, a local arts festival. An Army soldier also in attendance thought something was not quite right about Ford’s uniform.

The soldier enlisted the help of a Harrisburg police officer working at the event, who is a former Marine, and together, they accused Ford, 75,  of being a fraud.

“He’s not a real Marine!” the officer shouted to the crowd. “Stolen valor!”

The only problem is Ford did serve in the Marines from 1958 to 1964. He earned the rank of lance corporal. There was no stolen valor — just a false accusation that left Ford humiliated.

“He’s as legit as you can get,” said Doug Sterner, a Vietnam veteran and archivist from Pueblo, Colo., who is nationally recognized for detecting military fraud. Sterner has worked to build a database of military awards and has also become pretty great at spotting frauds. He confirmed Ford’s military service this week through Headquarters Marine Corps, and said that this is trend of veterans becoming vigilantes is troubling.

The federal “stolen valor,” law was struck down in 2012, and a meeker version passed in its place. Under the new law, few cases are being investigated or prosecuted against people who falsely claim military awards or service, Sterner said.

“The veteran community, frustrated and upset, is saying, ‘OK. We’ll do it ourselves,’ ” Sterner said. “But what it’s leading to is a bunch of hot heads. … There’s a lot of bullying going on in the community now. It’s almost like hunting game, going out looking for phonies.”

A witness said that the ordeal lasted about 10 to 15 minutes.

But, to Ford, it probably felt like an eternity.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their families. We are the go-to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit, the go-to site.

Stolen Valor & False Accusations: Military Connection: by Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: A Case of Stolen Valor

Purple Heart

By Debbie Gregory

Many teams across the sporting world have started a tradition of honoring a service member during one of their games. The crowd ceremoniously rises to their feet and cheers for the sacrifice the “Service Member of the Game” has made for their country. But what if their valor was all a lie?

The University of North Carolina football organization faced this issue when Seaman Matthew Cottom was honored. Standing in the middle of the field, Cottom listened to an announcer over the loudspeaker tell of his harrowing story of being shot while on deployment, and suffering a heart attack after he returned home. Cottom waved to the crowd, displaying a uniform covered with medals and ribbons, including the prestigious Purple Heart. However, there was one glaring problem: Cottom hadn’t earned a single one.

In a court-martial appearance, Cottom pleaded guilty to wearing unauthorized insignia and ribbons on his uniform on two occasions –Military Appreciation Day at UNC Chapel Hill and while he attended church, on a July Sunday, back home in Mississippi.

In this disgusting tale of stolen valor, Cottom even had his parents believing that he had been shot. His father, Ron Cottom, only found out the truth shortly before his son was charged.

What makes this lie even more egregious is that Cottom has never even been in combat, let alone injured. And while a heart condition did result in Cottom being placed on limited duty service at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance, he never suffered a heart attack.

Disappointed that his health was holding him back, Cottom told the judge that he wanted to make his family proud, which led to the fabricated stories.

“I realize that was very wrong,” he added. “And I should have just been happy with where I was in the Navy and that I’d be able to do better things down the road.”

The judge, Capt. Charles Purnell, confronted the sailor with questions about his wrongdoings. Cottom acknowledged that if someone saw him wearing the unauthorized ribbons and knew he hadn’t earned them, it could lower their trust in the military, and discredit service members that had earned their medals.

Testimony showed that Cottom had put a photo on Facebook wearing the Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist insignia and ribbons representing the NATO medal and the Expert Rifle medal, none of which he had rightfully earned. The photo was Cottom’s attempt to impress the people back home.

As a proud father, Ron Cottom decided to arrange a visit to the University of North Carolina during the weekend of Military Appreciation Day football game. After hearing his story, UNC athletics spokesman Rick Steinbacher invited the sailor to be honored.

Wearing unauthorized medals and ribbons, Cottom attended the game, and a video of him was posted on YouTube. Within days, complaints of stolen valor reached the Navy, and Cottom’s boss.

Cottom’s defense attorney, Lt. Cmdr. Kimberly Kelly, admitted that her client had issues with self-esteem and that he acted without honor. The prosecutor, Lt. Kevin Brandwein, has asked for a dishonorable discharge, and Kelly conceded that, more than likely, her client will receive an other-than-honorable discharge.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit, the go to site.

Military Connection: A Case of Stolen Valor: By Debbie Gregory