Before receiving a one-year prison sentence Wednesday, David M. Perelman said he deserved whatever punishment the judge chose to impose.
“I take full responsibility for everything I’ve done,” Perelman said. “I brought not only dishonor to the military but to my own family.”
The Las Vegas man said he was “deeply sorry” for his actions, which included fraudulently obtaining a Purple Heart and about $180,000 in disability benefits.
U.S. District Judge Kent Dawson sentenced the defendant and gave him until Feb. 4 to surrender to prison.
Perelman, 57, was a Veterans Affairs employee when a federal grand jury indicted him in October 2009. He pleaded guilty in August to theft of government funds, a felony, and unlawful wearing of a service medal, a misdemeanor.
The case against Perelman is the first known prosecution in Nevada under the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, which outlawed false claims of military honor.
Critics say the act violates free speech rights, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently declared the law unconstitutional in a separate case. But Dawson ruled that the circumstances in Perelman’s case differed from those in the 9th Circuit case.
The judge did, however, allow Perelman to retain his right to appeal the constitutionality of the Stolen Valor Act. Assistant Federal Public Defender Rene Valladares said he plans to pursue the appeal.
In court on Wednesday, Valladares argued that Perelman deserved a sentence of probation.
The lawyer said Perelman is the son of a career serviceman who died in 2000. He described Perelman’s father as a strict disciplinarian who subjected his son to physical and psychological abuse.
“His father always thought that he was basically a wimp,” Valladares said. “His father always thought that he was basically a coward.”
Nevertheless, the lawyer argued, Perelman grew up to be a decent individual. Perelman and his wife, Ann, have been married 35 years and have two adult children. Valladares said Ann Perelman supports her husband but could not bear to sit through the sentencing hearing. Instead, she waited at the lawyer’s office for news of her husband’s fate.
“I have spent the majority of my life with this man and though I know he has his faults, as we all do, he is not a bad person, he is just a man with problems,” Ann Perelman wrote in a letter to the judge.
She and Valladares both expressed concern about the effect prison time would have on the defendant’s health. Perelman suffers from several medical problems, including diabetes.
Dawson noted that Perelman had expressed his willingness to accept whatever punishment the judge deemed appropriate.
“In so doing, he will have demonstrated that he is not a coward, or a wimp, that he is willing to accept the consequences of his actions,” the judge said.
According to the defendant’s sentencing memorandum, Perelman enlisted in the Air Force at the age of 18.
“After being sent to Vietnam, the realities of war and the responsibilities of service were too much for him, and he was administratively discharged from the military only nine months after enlisting,” Valladares wrote.
The lawyer argued that Perelman is already experiencing the consequences of his criminal behavior.
“He embarrassed his family, lost his job and has been shunned by most of his friends as a result of his deceit,” Valladares wrote.
Perelman feels “especially remorseful,” according to the document, for the uncomfortable position in which he has placed his wife, who works for the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Nevada Chapter.
According to court records, Perelman claimed he had been wounded in Vietnam. In fact he accidentally shot himself in the right thigh in 1991.
Based on fraudulent documents submitted by Perelman, the Air Force awarded him various medals, including a Purple Heart, in 1994. The following year, Perelman applied for Veterans Administration disability benefits.
Retired Army Col. Bill Olds, a Vietnam War veteran and two-time Purple Heart recipient, attended Perelman’s sentencing with two other Purple Heart recipients.
“I wanted to be there in person to support the prosecutor and the judge,” Olds said.
Olds, a Las Vegas resident who works as a private contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan, recalled meeting Perelman once. He said the man deserves prison time.
“For the other Purple Heart recipients out there who read this, it’s going to show them that the law and our country supports what they did and that imposters are punished,” Olds said.
He also said he feels sorry for Perelman’s family, which has had to endure months of negative publicity, “but in the end, the court and the justice system did what was right.”
Valladares estimated that Perelman will serve about 10 months of his sentence after receiving credit for good behavior.
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at cgeer@review journal.com or 702-384-8710.