A man who pretended to be a highly decorated Marine will serve three years of probation, including 120 hours of volunteer work, probably in the service of veterans.
"I really admire the military," Angel Ocasio-Reyes, 49, said before he was sentenced today for three federal misdemeanor charges under the Stolen Valor Act. "I never meant to hurt anyone."
Ocasio-Reyes, of Tampa, bought a beribboned Marine master gunnery sergeant uniform at an Army Navy surplus store in New York and paid a friend $25 for a DD Form 214, an official military discharge document, showing Navy service.
He altered the form, typing in his address and a slew of medals and decorations, including the Navy Cross, making it appear as though he served in Iraq and Afghanistan and was injured in combat.
"He fit right in," said Commandant Roger Golden of Marine Corps League 567, who served twice in Vietnam. "You've got a Navy Cross on your chest, you're God. Everybody respects that. ... We took him to parties with us, we took him to a picnic and then come to find out, it just terrible; it's a big disgrace"
Ocasio Reyes said he was ashamed and embarrassed. "I apologize to all the veterans and all the military and their family ... It's a really bad thing that I did."
Veterans who packed the courtroom of U.S. Magistrate Mark Pizzo were unmoved by the defendant's apologies.
"If I see him around the V.A. hospital, I'm going to let everybody around there know who he is and what he is," said Vietnam veteran Dennis Antle of Tampa, who said his brother earned the Navy Cross the hard way. Ocasio-Reyes, he said, is "lower than scumbag."
Eventually, the real veterans noticed inconsistencies in his story and notified authorities. In March, Ocasio-Reyes pleaded guilty.
Defense attorney Adam Allen said Ocasio-Reyes posed as a decorated veteran "because he looked up to that position, looked up to those awards. ... It was something that he always wished he had accomplished in life. He was honored to be in the company of those men."
Pizzo today noted that the Navy Cross was created by Congress in 1919 and is the highest decoration given by the Navy for extraordinary heroism that doesn't justify a Medal of Honor. "There have only been a couple thousand Marines who have been awarded the Navy Cross."
Sentencing guidelines called for Ocasio-Reyes to receive between zero and six months in prison, but Pizzo said time behind bars is "not appropriate" for Ocasio Reyes.
Allen said the defendant's father is a military veteran, who has talked to his son about what he did. "He's dishonored his father," the federal public defender said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Hansen said that as a veteran who served more than 22 years of active duty, he was "outraged" at Ocasio-Reyes' affront to "to the honor and integrity of those veterans who earned those medals, often posthumously."