In the first known prosecution in Nevada under the Stolen Valor Act, a former Veterans Affairs employee pleaded not guilty Friday in U.S. District Court to charges of theft of government property and unauthorized wearing of a military medal, the Purple Heart.
With a walking cane in hand and wearing a Navy blue sports coat, David M. Perelman, 56, of Las Vegas, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lawrence Leavitt, saying, "Yes, your honor," and "Yes, I do," when Leavitt asked if he had read the grand jury indictment and understood the charges.
According to the Oct. 28 indictment, Perelman claimed he had been wounded in combat in Vietnam while serving in the Air Force. In fact, he had been wounded by a self-inflicted gunshot in 1991, the indictment states.
He is also accused of stealing about $180,000 in monthly disability benefits from the Veterans Administration, now known as the Department of Veterans Affairs, from July 1995 until July 2009.
Leavitt released Perelman on his own recognizance pending trial after Perelman's court-appointed attorney, assistant federal public defender Rene Valladares, argued that he posed no risk of danger and no risk of not appearing for trial.
Perelman, who last year served as Nevada commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, had been working as a clerk at a local VA office for the past three years. He has since resigned following the indictment, a VA spokesman said Friday.
During his arraignment, Valladares said Perelman is currently receiving treatment for mental health problems through the VA, Valladares said.
As he left the Lloyd George U.S. Courthouse, Perelman declined through Valladares to be interviewed.
"We just intend to prove Mr. Perelman is not guilty," Valladares said.
The theft charge Perelman faces is a felony and the unauthorized wearing of the Purple Heart medal is a misdemeanor. The Purple Heart medal is awarded to U.S. military personnel who have been wounded or killed in combat.
The indictment states that Perleman "had not served in combat in Vietnam." He is accused of wearing the Purple Heart without authorization in August 2008.
A VA official has said Perelman sought employment with the department, saying he was a disabled veteran. He was cleared for hiring following a background check.
Perelman is the second former local official of the Military Order of the Purple Heart 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.
Porter had intended to name a post office after Schwartz until the Review-Journal raised questions about his military records. Schwartz died in July.
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at email@example.com or 702-383-0308.