Prosecutor: Tenn. couple faked military service, disabilities to defraud government
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — With a decorated war hero regaling them with tales from the pages of military history — the Vietnam War, the rescue of a captured U.S. merchant cargo ship and the Iran hostage crisis, to name a few — these University of Tennessee students were reported to be enraptured.
"You can read about this stuff in history books, but he was there," one student told the Tennessee Journalist, a news website operated by UT's School of Journalism and Electronic Media, at the time of the April 2008 speech.
Turns out, he wasn't — according to a federal indictment unsealed Tuesday against Charles C. Kaczmarczyk, 59, and his wife, Martha Ann Kaczmarczyk, 62, of Knoxville.
The couple is charged in an eight-count indictment with conspiring to steal public money from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration over the past six years in a case likely to involve more than $100,000 in false benefits claims.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary Bolitho wrote in the indictment that Charles Kaczmarczyk filed claims for disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder he said he suffered during his years of dangerous Special Operations missions, including the evacuation of Saigon in 1975, the rescue of U.S. merchant cargo ship by the Cambodian Khmer Rouge days later and the 1980 Iran hostage crisis.
As part of the scheme, he crafted fake Air Force documents "showing that he had earned numerous medals for his combat experience, including two Purple Hearts and two Silver Stars," Bolitho wrote.
His wife "actively assisted" him in carrying out the fraud, Bolitho alleged, and herself filed a false claim for a disabling back problem.
The case would have been ripe for prosecution under the Stolen Valor law, which made it a crime to pose as a war hero. But the U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down the law as unconstitutional, opining even lies about military service are protected under the First Amendment.
Kaczmarczyk passed himself off as a retired Air Force chief when he spoke to a gathering of UT students in 2008 and also tried to dupe his way into veterans groups with those same faked documents, medals and stories of heroism, according to various news sites and court records.
Military records show he was a low-level member of the Air Force from 1972 to 1984. He was stationed in Thailand, New Hampshire and Florida and never saw combat.
It's not clear when the Kaczmarczyks were married. Charles Kaczmarczyk was charged in connection with the death of his wife's then-husband, Robert McClancy, also a veteran who lived in Coker Creek in Monroe County.
Authorities alleged Kaczmarczyk watched McClancy die from an overdose and then staged the body with a gun and reported the death as a suicide. McClancy suffered no gunshot wounds, however, a photograph found on a digital camera in the home showed an apparently dead McClancy without a gun in his hand.
The charges were dropped, however, when a judge tossed out as illegally obtained without a warrant the camera and Kaczmarczyk's statement.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley ordered the pair jailed Tuesday pending a detention hearing today after he questioned the truthfulness of answers to queries he posed to them.