A Wisconsin man could face charges of stolen valor under a recent state law for claiming to be a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, but it’s likely no one would be crying “oorah” over this victory.
John Hemphill was exposed last year by Fox6 after he claimed to have been a lieutenant and served 22 years in the Marine Corps – a tale that was convincing enough to fool his wife.
Sheila Hemphill claims she thought her husband was retired and had lost his leg in the Middle East to a roadside bomb, according to Fox6. It turns out, Hemphill was pulling everyone’s leg.
When Fox6 reached out to the Marine Corps for Hemphill’s military records, the office responded that the Manpower Management Records and Performance Branch (MMRP) was not able to identify Hemphill as a member or former member of the U.S. Marine Corps or Marine Corps Reserve, according to the letter.
When coverage of Hemphill’s stolen valor picked up nationally last fall, police detective and retired Marine Tom Kulinski decided to make a case to the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, and he is seeking five misdemeanor charges against Hemphill for “lying about military service to get a discount on his cell phone bill, a bank account with USAA [a financial services company for military members and their families], membership in the Wisconsin American Legion and more,” according to Fox6.
Wisconsin has had a “stolen valor” law for almost two years, after State Assemblyman David Steffen saw Hemphill’s case, calling him an “absolute scumbag” when he heard the story, according to Fox6. The law makes it a Class A misdemeanor crime in the state to falsely claim military service in order to gain any type of tangible benefit or personal gain, according to the report.
Congress passed the Stolen Valor Act in 2013, “but an FBI agent in Steffen’s district said he was having trouble getting federal prosecutors to take a case,” which is why Steffen wrote the state’s own law, according to Fox6.
There have been other cases of stolen valor, as Virginia man Brandon Blankenship claimed to be a Marine master sergeant and used a cover story about renting apartments for the Department of Defense in order to garner his own rent for free. But Blankenship pled guilty and was convicted of identity theft – not stolen valor.
If charged and convicted, Hemphill would be Wisconsin’s “poster child” for the state’s stolen valor offenders, according to Steffen.
His case is under review in the Milwaukee District Attorney’s office.