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Washington • A Utah congressman has turned over to federal prosecutors a binder full of evidence that he was duped into presenting medals to a Korean War veteran that the Pentagon says he didn't earn, which may lead to a criminal probe.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, also plans to call a congressional hearing on "stolen valor" cases and the difficulty in verifying military honors since the Pentagon keeps no official list.
"Others have been burned by this. I have too, but I want to solve the problem," he said.
Chaffetz's actions come more than a month after The Salt Lake Tribune first reported on Myron Brown, an 86-year-old Provo resident who presented fraudulent documents awarding him the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and Purple Heart. One of the letters says the citations, which include the Air Force's second- and third-highest-ranking honors, had been misfiled for the past 60 years.
Brown asked Chaffetz to publicly present him with the medals and the congressman did so at a Saratoga Springs town meeting in June that was covered by KSL TV, the Deseret News and the Daily Herald of Provo.
Activists who track such medals first raised questions about the authenticity of the documents, noting typos, odd formatting and emblems that appeared to be lifted from other documents.
Then, in late November, The Tribune asked Air Force archivists at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama to check the citations Brown presented to Chaffetz against the official records from the 1950s. They didn't match.
Chaffetz said at that time that he wanted a letter from the Pentagon definitively stating that Brown's documents were fakes before he would denounce the medals and take action.
"Otherwise it would be unfair to tarnish a veteran's career," he said.
Brown on Wednesday said he did not want to comment on any potential investigation, but he did reiterate what he told The Tribune in November, that he deserves the medals and didn't falsify documents. Brown said he received them in the mail after he asked the Air Force to review his file.
"I didn't do them. That is all I know," he said. "I have not the slightest idea what these people are talking about."
But in a letter to Chaffetz sent Dec. 28, the Pentagon unequivocally states that the documents are not official, Brown never received the medals and, in fact, he has made attempts to claim these honors before.
The letter largely relied on the same citation discrepancy cited by The Tribune in November. But it also discloses that Brown previously claimed in 2000 and again in 2007 that he had received documentation saying the Air Force had discovered the same lost honors, none of which actually came from the Air Force. A Pentagon review of Brown's military service found medals he did earn, but they were not the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star or a Purple Heart.
"The documentation provided by Mr. Brown does not appear to be official," the letter reads.
That was enough for Chaffetz to request a meeting with prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Utah. Faking military honors is a misdemeanor crime under the 2006 Stolen Valor Act. One judicial circuit has found this law to be unconstitutional, but it remains in effect in the district that includes Utah.
"No matter his age, I believe there is enough evidence now that he is lying," Chaffetz said. "It is embarrassing and it is wrong. I want to make sure these people get prosecuted."
At his meeting with prosecutors earlier this month, Chaffetz also handed over information in another potential stolen valor case, this one involving one of his former employees.
Chaffetz hired a man in early 2011 under the congressional wounded warriors program meant to provide employment for people who received a Purple Heart. After a few weeks, Chaffetz's staff discovered the employee never received that medal. The congressman fired him.
"I was furious about that," Chaffetz said. "It is so wrong."
The congressman said he plans to hold a congressional hearing that will question why the Pentagon doesn't have a simple way to verify military honors.
"There is no one-stop shop for members of Congress or employers to confirm that someone has earned the medals they represent that they have," he said. "The record keeping at the Pentagon is atrocious."
That hearing will involve Brown's case and other instances of falsified medals.
Doug Sterner, the curator of the Military Times Hall of Valor, said the hearing is long overdue.
"The story here really isn't Myron Brown," said Sterner, who brought his concerns about Brown's medals to Chaffetz. "He is one of dozens, probably hundreds like this."
Sterner places legitimate honors in an online database, a service he thinks the government should provide. In his work, he has seen other members of Congress honor people who claimed awards they never earned and in some cases, they have looked away.
"I salute Congressman Chaffetz because he has risen to the challenge of confronting the mistake made by his office," Sterner said, "and manning up to it in a way that is admirable."