A Las Vegas man who admitted he lied to obtain a Purple Heart used the medal and phony paperwork to steal $180,000 in benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs where he worked as a clerk, according to federal court documents.
David M. Perelman had sought to have the misdemeanor stolen valor charge against him dropped, but U.S. District Judge Kent Dawson denied his motion on Thursday. He ruled that Perelman's situation differed from a case in which the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals deemed the stolen valor law unconstitutional because it violated a California man's right to free speech. The appeals court handed down that decision Tuesday.
Unlike Xavier Alvarez of Pomona, Calif., a water district board member who claimed to be a retired Marine who received the Medal of Honor, Perelman, an Air Force veteran, is charged with "unauthorized wearing or use of a military or service medal," Dawson ruled.
The judge said the Alvarez decision addresses the constitutionality of the Stolen Valor Act, which imposes criminal penalties "for mere utterance or writing" in falsely claiming military decorations or service medals.
Dawson ruled that Perelman's case is "distinguishable from the facts and issues" in the Alvarez case and that "the unauthorized wearing or use of a military or service medal" was not addressed by the appeals court decision.
Bill Anton, a veterans advocate who supports the Stolen Valor Act, lauded Dawson's order.
"I think it's positive that we have a judge who understands the integrity of the federal law passed by the United States Congress," said Anton, a retired Army officer who is in the Ranger Hall of Fame and is president of Special Forces Association Chapter 51 in Las Vegas.
Dawson's ruling, he said, "represents true feelings of United States veterans."
"We are dismayed by the findings of the 9th Circuit but not deterred," Anton said. "I'm sure when that one is appealed to the Supreme Court, it will show the 9th Circuit condones lying, cheating and stealing, and stealing is stolen valor."
Perelman's attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Rene Valladares, was unavailable for comment late Thursday. He had sought dismissal of the stolen valor charge, saying part of the act restricts free speech.
In a plea agreement filed Tuesday, Perelman, 57, said he will plead guilty to theft of government funds and unlawful wearing of a service medal.
The theft count carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. The maximum sentence for the stolen valor charge is one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. According to Perelman's plea agreement, the U.S. attorney's office will recommend leniency in sentencing.
U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden wouldn't comment on the Perelman case because it is still a pending criminal matter.
Perelman's next hearing is Tuesday .
In the agreement signed by Perelman on Aug. 11, he admits he was not wounded by enemy actions when he served as an air cargo specialist in Vietnam for about three months in 1971.
Instead, he accidentally shot himself in the right leg in 1991. Two years later, he began claiming he had suffered shrapnel wounds in Vietnam.
Based on fraudulent documents submitted by Perelman, the Air Force awarded him various medals, including a Purple Heart in 1994.
He applied for disability benefits in 1995 but the Department of Veterans Affairs found no evidence in his records of a service-related injury.
"But the Purple Heart established reasonable doubt" in Perelman's favor, the court papers state. As a result he was rated 70 percent disabled. He also received disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder and diabetes.
Perelman also once claimed to have earned a Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. military valor award, and distributed a phony citation that was the subject of a 1997 federal court case in California. That case was dismissed because prosecutors waited too long to bring him to trial.
In the Alvarez case, the man pleaded guilty to falsely saying he had received the Medal of Honor in violation of the Stolen Valor Act but reserved his right to appeal the constitutionality of the act.
In the 2-1 decision of a three-judge panel, Court of Appeals judges Thomas Nelson and Milan Smith Jr. ruled Alvarez's freedom of speech rights were violated.
Smith wrote that the right to speak and write "whatever one chooses -- including to some degree, worthless, offensive and demonstrable untruths without cowering in fear of a powerful government" is an essential First Amendment component.
Court of Appeals Judge Jay Bybee dissented, saying in his opinion that false statements usually fall outside of First Amendment protection and that the Stolen Valor Act "is not unconstitutionally overbroad" and fits with established First Amendment law.
"All things considered, Alvarez's self-introduction was neither a slip of the tongue nor a theatrical performance; it was simply a lie," Bybee wrote.
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0308.