Former Marine gets 4 1/2 years in scam to raise money for golf career
Michael Campbell, left, in Iraq for Operation Proper Exit in 2010. Operation Proper Exit provides troops who have been injured in battle the opportunity to make a "proper exit" from theater rather than being medically evacuated. Campbell admitted to lying about his service in Iraq according to court documents. He served in the Marine Corps from 2000 to 2004, but never left the U.S. while serving.
Dallas Morning News
A former U.S. Marine who falsely claimed to have battle injuries in a scam to raise money to become a professional golfer was sentenced Wednesday to 4 1/2 years in federal prison.
Michael Duye Campbell had claimed he suffered a combat-related brain injury in Iraq, but he never left the U.S. and was never injured. Federal authorities said it was part of a scheme to get money to pursue his dream of playing on the PGA Tour.
Campbell, 30, had pleaded guilty earlier to mail fraud for defrauding charities of at least $40,000.
But the damage he did was far greater, said U.S. District Judge Jorge A. Solis.
“What you did was egregious. It was outrageous,” Solis said. “This is just not your normal fraud case.”
Campbell used his fake story to take part in a charity event that paid for him and others to travel to where they were injured in combat so they could feel empowered by leaving on their own rather than in a medical helicopter.
In December 2010, Campbell was flown from Dallas to Dubai and then taken to Fallujah by military transport as part of Operation Proper Exit VIII. The trip cost thousands of dollars.
Richard Kell, executive director of the nonprofit Troops First Foundation, which runs the program, said during the sentencing hearing that Campbell put lives at risk.
Two Blackhawk helicopters carrying about 22 men, including some Purple Heart recipients, were traveling to Fallujah when Campbell asked whether they could loop around again.
They were in an active war zone. But they did so for Campbell despite the risks, said Kell, who sat across from Campbell during the flight.
“We had these 20-some men in a place we didn’t need to be,” Kell said.
He said Campbell was selfish to put them in that position. And his actions could harm the charity’s fundraising ability, he said.
“It still amazes me... men were put in jeopardy,” Kell said.
Sitting in the courtroom was a real wounded soldier: Sgt. Omar Avila of the 1st Infantry Division, who was severely burned during battle in Iraq. Avila also went on a Proper Exit mission to where he was injured, which Kell said shows wounded soldiers that their work was “not done in vain.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Chad E. Meacham rose to speak briefly for Avila, who bowed his head.
“He’d tell you the worst thing Michael Campbell did was take that opportunity away from somebody else,” Meacham said about the charity flight.
Meacham finished by saying, “The government clearly stands with those killed and wounded in action.”
Campbell apologized for his actions and said he takes full responsibility.
“I wish I could take it back,” he said. “I can’t.”
He said he plans to pay back the money he earned from the scam. Solis ordered him to pay $40,993 in restitution as part of his sentence.
“For what it’s worth, I’m a lot happier at not having anything — at being truthful — than having stuff and being a liar,” he told Solis. “I’m not a bad person. I want the chance to give back.”