Auto repair shop scammed by fake Purple Heart recipient

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BRATTLEBORO -- Betrayed. Angry. Disgusted. Dismayed. Cheated. Heartbroken.

That's the gamut of emotions felt by people who recently learned a Wilmington man passed himself off as a Purple Heart recipient in order to receive more than $1,000 in repair work on his pickup truck.

That's the gamut of emotions felt by people who recently learned a Wilmington man passed himself off as a Purple Heart recipient in order to receive more than $1,000 in repair work on his pickup truck.

Less than a week after pleading guilty to impersonating a public officer, Simon George, 26, walked into Vianor on Putney Road and told a hard-luck story of being wounded in Afghanistan and having no money to pay for repairs to his truck before being redeployed.

The story was not true.

"He lied," said Gary Yake, Vianor store manager, about George's visit to his auto repair shop just a few days before Christmas. "If he comes around here, there are three guys that would like to settle the score with him."

Yake said he and the two repair technicians that worked on George's truck, Bruce Lozeau and Jonathan "Jay" Meyer, were devastated by George's lies.

"You try to do something for someone who is supposedly an American hero and then you find out the guy was full of it," said Yake.

On Thursday, police officers from the Brattleboro and Wilmington police departments visited Vianor and took statements from the guys at the auto shop.

Simon was arrested on Aug. 10, 2009, in Wilmington and charged with impersonation. On Dec. 14, he was sentenced to three months, all suspended, and probation for one year.

Lt. Robert Kirkpatrick, of the Brattleboro Police Department, first learned about George from Wilmington Police Department's Sgt. Matthew Murano, who read about Vianor's largess in the Reformer. (A story about the mechanics ran in the Jan. 2-3 Weekend Reformer.) Murano had dealings with him last year when George was investigated for impersonation.

Wilmington Police Chief Joseph Szarejko and Murano tracked George down and spoke with him, said Kirkpatrick.

Following the interview, police had enough information to cite him with theft of services, said Kirkpatrick, who said he was putting together a detailed affidavit describing the alleged crime.

If it's proven he stole more than $900 in services, George could spend up to 10 years in jail. Anything less than $900 is considered a one-year misdemeanor.

Because there were two parties involved, both Vianor and Consumer Auto Parts, which contributed components to repair George's truck, it's uncertain whether the Windham County State's Attorney's Office will charge him with one felony or two misdemeanors, said Kirkpatrick.

He also said he was dotting all his "I's" and crossing all his "T's" just in case federal charges are filed against George. He and the state's attorney's office want to make sure he answers to the local charges even if the U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont files charges against him.

Tristram Coffin, the U.S. Attorney, said whether federal charges could be filed against George are dependent on the facts of the case.

"There are several federal statutes that cover false impersonation of a federal employee," said Tristram Coffin. "That would cover someone in the military."

But to be charged, said Coffin, George would have had to use his false position in an official capacity.

"It doesn't sound like that to me," he said. "But I would have to know the facts in detail and look at the particular circumstances."

According to a spokesman for the U.S. Army, George enlisted in the Army in Sept. 2007, and spent four months at Fort Knox in Kentucky, where he received basic training and individualized training as a cavalry scout.

Following his four months of training, the Army has no record of George performing active duty service, said spokesman George Wright.

"Our records end with his training," he said. "He's not on active duty at this time."

Lt. Col. Michael Moose, deputy public affairs officer for the Army's Human Resources Command told the Reformer that George was not currently in the National Guard either.

Moose said his office was in the process of researching George's career with the Army and would supply that information to the media next week.

George allegedly told Yake, Lozeau and Meyer that he had served two tours in Iraq and one tour in Afghanistan.

A typical tour of duty overseas is 12 months long, with 12 months stateside in-between tours, said Wright, which makes it highly unlikely that George was telling the truth because of his enlistment date.

Kirkpatrick said the more he learns about the case, the more upset he gets.

"I'm not happy at all," said Kirkpatrick, who spent three years as a military police officer in the Army in the 1970s, adding it must be particularly upsetting to people who have actually received Purple Hearts.

"These guys put themselves on the line and then someone goes and throws out this is what I did and it's false and they receive these benefits," said Kirkpatrick, who had nothing but kind words for Yake, Lozeau and Meyer.

"With the information they had in front of them and what they saw, they said we really ought to help this guy out," he said. "That shows some real heart on their part."

Jerry Newberry, the director of communications for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said he was disgusted and dismayed to learn about George's alleged impersonation.

"Unfortunately, scumbags walk the Earth," he said. "You can only imagine how someone feels who has suffered a wound, spent time in pain and rehab and then sees some jerk try pass himself off as a Purple Heart recipient. It goes beyond words."

Newberry said that there is a lot of anecdotal evidence of people impersonating active duty service members or veterans, there is no consolidated data base that tracks the actual numbers.

"We hear about examples, but the question is how many don't we hear about," he said.

There are federal regulations that prevent active duty service men and women from accepting certain gifts.

Military members may accept gifts as long as they are not offered because of their official positions and are not offered by anyone who is looking for something in return.

Military members may not ask for gifts at all, according to the regulation, and they are forbidden from receiving monetary gifts.

Monetary donations should be made to relief organizations that provide support and service to military members and their families.

George is scheduled to be in court on Jan. 19 for failure to pay a surcharge of $141 on the impersonation charge.

According to court documents, George told a woman in Wilmington that he was an undercover state narcotics officer. He accused the woman of using drugs and told her if she blew his cover she would "suffer the consequences."

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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