A Veterans Affairs employee from Las Vegas was indicted this week in a case of stolen valor and stolen benefits.
The case against David M. Perelman, who claimed to have received a Purple Heart medal, is the first known prosecution in Nevada under the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, which outlawed false claims of military honor. According to the indictment, Perelman claimed he had been wounded in combat in Vietnam, when in fact he had been wounded by a self-inflicted gunshot in 1991.
"The Purple Heart is a symbol of heroism, patriotism, honor, and symbolic of one's sacrifice and duty to our country," said Daniel Bogden, the U.S. attorney for Nevada. "Those who seek to diminish the sacrifice of others by wearing the Purple Heart when not authorized to do so will be vigorously prosecuted. Federal law calls for imprisonment for up to one year for wearing the Purple Heart when not authorized by law."
Perelman also is accused of stealing about $180,000 in monthly disability benefits from the Veterans Administration, now known as Veterans Affairs, from 1995 until July 2009. He is 56.
Attempts to reach Perelman for comment Thursday were unsuccessful. He faces two charges: theft of government property, a felony, and the unauthorized wearing of a military medal, a misdemeanor.
"I'm glad that finally Mr. Bogden is going to prosecute a stolen valor case," said retired Army Lt. Col. Bill Anton, president of Special Forces Association Chapter 51. "Veterans are happy that he is finally addressing this, and we support him totally."
Anton spent a year trying to persuade Bogden to pursue a stolen valor case against another veteran, Jacob Cruze.
In e-mails to the Review-Journal in 2006, Bogden confirmed that his criminal chief had reviewed the Cruze matter and determined it was appropriately handled by Las Vegas police, "who cited Cruze for unlawfully using specialized veteran vehicle license plates and confiscated all improper medals, uniforms and indicia."
Bogden also wrote, "Considering our limited resources and manning we did not feel that additional misdemeanor charges ... were necessary since the matter had already been addressed by local authorities."
But Anton, a disabled Vietnam War veteran, said federal charges are needed to deter phony war heroes.
According to the indictment against Perelman, he falsely represented to the Veterans Administration that he legitimately had been awarded a Purple Heart when he knew he had fraudulently obtained the award by representing that he had been wounded in combat in Vietnam.
Perelman also knew, according to the indictment, "that he had been wounded by a self-inflicted gunshot in 1991, long after he had been discharged from the military, and that he had not served in combat in Vietnam."
The document accuses Perelman of wearing the Purple Heart without authorization in August 2008.
John Bright, director of the Veterans Affairs Southern Nevada Healthcare System, said he was "stunned as anybody else" to learn of the allegations of Perelman's false claims after a Veterans Affairs inspector general's investigation.
"He's been a pretty decent employee," Bright said Thursday. "We haven't had any problems with him. Of course he's not going to work for us any more."
Bright said the VA hired Perelman as a clerk about three years ago after he had worked as a volunteer for the agency.
Perelman sought employment saying that he was a disabled veteran, and he was cleared for hiring following a background check.
"There was no way for us to have known," Bright said.
He said Perelman has submitted his resignation; his last day in the VA job will be next week.
As for the indictment's allegation that Perelman embezzled $180,000 in VA disability benefits, Bright said, "It's appalling. Apparently there are a lot of folks out there doing this type of stuff."
Records from the Military Order of the Purple Heart list Perelman as the organization's Nevada commander in late 2008.
He is the second former local official of the order to have questions surface about lying about military service.
Last year, Irving Joseph Schwartz, who had been a national service officer and past commander of the organization's Chapter 711 in Las Vegas, admitted to former Rep. Jon Porter's staff that he had fabricated his role in World War II after his claims for valor medals had stood without question for most of his life.
Porter had intended to name a post office after Schwartz until the Review-Journal raised questions about his military records.
Schwartz died in July.
John Bircher, national spokesman for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, noted that Perelman hasn't been found guilty yet.
If he is found guilty, his membership with the organization will be revoked, Bircher said.
"The Military Order of the Purple Heart feels strongly about the Stolen Valor Act, especially regarding those who falsely wear a Purple Heart," he said.
A Web site for the Air Force's 8th Aerial Port Squadron during the Vietnam War profiles Perelman's 1971 tour with photographs and a Purple Heart citation.
A summons has been issued for Perelman, who was indicted Wednesday. He is scheduled to make his initial court appearance on Nov. 13 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lawrence Leavitt.
Anton said he has encountered Perelman several times over the past three years and knew him as a Purple Heart recipient who had served in the Air Force in Vietnam.
Perelman said he had been wounded by shrapnel during a rocket attack in Vietnam, said Anton, who was not surprised to hear about the criminal allegations.
"I didn't think the guy was real," Anton said.
He said most veterans have honor and integrity.
"That's something that's truly lacking in this country."
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at email@example.com or 702-384-8710. Contact Keith Rogers at krogers@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.