Former Marine Sergeant Tim Debusk is facing jail time for falsely claiming that he earned the Purple Heart during service in Iraq. He goes on trial in Topeka, Kansas next month (image courtesy Marine Times/First Sergeant Earl McIntosh, USMC, Ret).
Having never been a "guest" of the feds, we don't know how the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) assigns cell mates. But it looks like the good folks of Topeka, Kansas have found a prospective "roomie" for Corporal Richard McClanahan, the ex-Army trooper who's heading to the slammer for claiming a chestful of military decorations he never earned, including the Congressional Medal of Honor. McClanahan recently pleaded guilty to federal charges in Amarillo, and will be sentenced in a few weeks.
Now, Topeka residents have discovered their own military fraud. But the case of former Marine Sergeant Tim Debusk is slightly different from McClanahan. Unlike Corporal McClanahan--who pulled brig time for the same medal scam while in uniform and received a less-than-honorable discharge--Sergeant Debusk's duty performance was satisfactory, even commendable. Debusk served as a Marine Corps supply clerk from 1998 to 2002, and was recalled to active duty in 2004-2005. After completing his individual ready reserve commitment, Debusk received an honorable discharge from the Corps in January of this year.
Records show that Sergeant Debusk earned an Iraq Campaign Medal during his stints on active duty, although it's unclear when he deployed. However, there is no documentary evident that Debusk ever served in combat, or was wounded in action. And that's where his problems begin.
A few months ago, retired First Sergeant (E-8) Earl McIntosh, a member of Topeka's Marine Corps League, received a copy of a citation Debusk provided in applying for a Purple Heart license plate. The medal citation (which has been posted at the Military Times websites) looked like an obvious "cut-and-paste job." Clerks at the local DMV smelled a rat, and so did First Sergeant McIntosh. He forwarded the phony citation to the Marine Corps Reserve Center in Topeka and local police.
The subsequent investigation revealed that Debusk's claim was fraudulent. Now, the former Marine is facing federal charges of "dealing in false identification documents" and "making a false writing." If convicted, he could receive up to six months in prison, and a $5,000 fine. Debusk's trial is scheduled to begin on September 7th.
By the fraud standards of Richard McClanahan--who also claimed that he earned the Legion of Merit, three Silver Stars and three Purple Hearts, in addition to the Medal of Honor--Tim Debusk is a veritable piker. But they're cut from the same cloth, and both deserve to be punished. Few deeds are as contemptible as "stealing" valor from those who have actually earned it on the battlefield.
Debusk is certainly entitled to his day in court, but based on the available evidence, there seems to be little doubt about his guilt. It seems likely that the former Sergeant will get some "downtime" in the federal clink, all because he coveted a Purple Heart license plate for his car, and figured that no one in Topeka would question his "doctored" citation.
If Debusk is convicted, we're hoping that someone at the BOP has a sense of irony, and assigns the former Marine NCO and the ex-Army corporal to the same cell. That way, the two frauds can spend hours regaling each other with phony tales of military heroism and imaginary medals. Debusk and McClanahan: sounds like a cell-mate match made in corrections heaven.
More on the McClanahan case can be found at this website (run by one of his ex-wives) which details his fraudulent claims. There's also a link to a recent column by Jon Mark Beliue of the Amarillo Globe-News, which highlights the scope of the problem. Until the Stolen Valor Act was passed in 2005, only individuals who falsely claimed to be Medal of Honor recipients could be prosecuted. Under the new law, anyone who fraudulently claims to be a decorated veteran can be jailed and fined.
And, Mr. Beliue reports, the impostors are everywhere. Over the past two years, the FBI has received over 700 complaints about phony veterans, or ex-military personnel with medals they never received. FBI agent Mike Sanborn told the Globe-News that he currently has 17 active investigations under the Stolen Valor Act. Past violators include a federal judge--who claimed two Medals of Honor--a CEO, a police chief and a mayor.
Most do it for attention (or to flesh out a resume), but some have financial motives as well. Before his fraud was exposed, Richard McClanahan conned his hometown of Boys Ranch, Texas out of $9,000 in scholarship money and $2,000 in "other" donations. He even pressured a local Ford dealer for a car, in recognition of his "status" as a Medal of Honor recipient.
Sadly, phonies like McClanahan are only the tip of the iceberg. For every "poster boy" like the former Army medic, there are countless others who crank out fraudulent citations and buy medals off eBay, in an effort to impress a girlfriend, get a job, or just obtain a specialized license plate. All deserve to be exposed--and prosecuted--for their crimes. That's why First Sergeant McIntosh and those Topeka DMV clerks deserve a special thanks, for helping the feds nail another military fraud.