DANBURY — On his web page, Gregory C. Banks identifies himself as a clinical psychologist with offices in Danbury and Farmington who counsels, among others, those suffering from post-traumatic-stress disorder, including military veterans and police officers.
When Banks showed up at Masonic Lodge meetings in Danbury and Massachusetts in recent years, he frequently wore the uniform and medals of a decorated active-duty Special Forces major in the U.S. Army, and accepted the accolades and free dinners from lodge brothers grateful for his service to the nation.
Earlier this month, however, the 41-year-old Banks received recognition of a far different sort.
His name and photographs appeared on the website of an organization that specializes in exposing people who falsely claim to have served in the armed forces, an offense that not only raises the ire of true veterans but in some cases can be prosecuted under the federal Stolen Valor Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama last year.
"There's no doubt about it, he's perpetrating a fraud," said Terence Hoey, a retired master chief petty officer in the Navy and a regular contributor to website This Ain't Hell, But You Can See It From Here, who helped unmask Bank's alleged deception.
"We in the veterans' community don't give these guys an inch, and we will go to great lengths to expose them," Hoey said. "The No. 1 remedy for stolen valor is the truth, and we are truth seekers."
A search of military records initiated recently by one of Banks' fellow Masons revealed that no one with his name and birth date was currently serving in the military.
"We have conducted extensive searches of every records source and alternate records source at this center; however, we have been unable to locate any information that would help us verify the veteran's military service," Michael Harris, an archives technician at the National Personnel Records Center in Missouri, wrote in a Dec. 13 letter.
Banks on Monday refused to speak to The News-Times about the allegations.
When a reporter went to Bank's office on North Street, a man who wouldn't give his name, accused him of "harassing us all day," referring to three phone messages left on answering machines at the counselor's two offices and at his home in Brookfield.
Told that Banks was accused of falsely claiming to be in the service and portraying himself as an active-duty Army officer, the man said, "That's no longer accurate," but wouldn't elaborate and called 911. Police responded, but declined to take any action.
Banks began showing up at the Union 40 lodge in Danbury about a year ago, wearing camouflage fatigues and claiming he recently returned from deployment and "had business at West Point," where he happened to see a notice about the meeting.
Being a Mason, Banks decided to drop by, said Ken Baylor, a lodge member who eventually grew suspicious about his story.
To those who inquired about his service, Banks would usually reply that he "was a problem-solver" currently on active duty, but he offered only a few other specifics, Baylor said.
The tip-off came in early December when he showed up at the lodge in his Army dress blues wearing a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and a combat infantryman's badge.
To Baylor, a non-veteran familiar with military apparel from his high school ROTC days and from friends currently in the service, including some in the very units that Banks claimed to have been with, things seemed off.
"His jacket didn't fit properly, and his beret was wrong," Baylor said. "He was wearing a black one, which is improper for the Special Forces, and it looked like a muffin top. Any soldier would know how to wear one."
His Army friends told Baylor there was no major in their unit by the name of Greg Banks, prompting him to file a Freedom of Information request with the personnel records center.
A simple Internet search revealed that Banks, who'd mentioned he worked as a psychologist, had a practice in Danbury, Baylor said.
Baylor also checked the website of the King Hiram's Masonic Lodge in Provincetown, Mass., where Banks had been a member for nine years, which identified Banks as a lodge chaplain and assistant treasurer and featured numerous articles lauding him for his service and pictures of him in his dress uniform.
Those postings have been taken down since Bank's deception was discovered, Baylor said.
Ralph Desmond, the Worshipful Master at King Hiram's Lodge, refused to discuss the matter with The News-Times.
"Lodge business is lodge business," Desmond said, adding he would discipline any of his members who discussed the issue.
Once he was confident of his findings, Baylor forwarded the information to This Ain't Hell, and Hoey and John Lilyea, a retired infantry sergeant, verified his information and posted it. The posting has drawn hundreds of comments from angry veterans.
Numerous attempts to contact Banks were unsuccessful, although they were contacted by a man who claimed to be Banks' representative who offered to surrender the uniforms, minus the name tags, a deal the veterans rejected, Hoey said.
"Since the police won't usually prosecute, we're the stocks and dunking chair in the public square," Lilyea said. "The only thing we can do is shame these guys."
Tony Anderson, who runs a similar website, Guardian of Valor, said he has seen a steady increase in the number of false service claims since he set it up three years ago.
"From someone dressing up in a uniform and going to the airport to get `atta boys,' to the ones who use it to gain financially and even create companies on the fraudulent claims, I get anywhere between 15 and 20 reports per day, with about 50 percent being actual false claims," Anderson said.
But criminal prosecutions are rare, unless there has been financial gain, he said.
"It is hard to get someone prosecuted under the new Stolen Valor Act unless another crime has been committed along with it, although when we get enough evidence, we submit it to the proper authorities, hoping they will follow through," Anderson said.
Baylor said the Banks case has angered many members of the lodge, because the Masons -- despite a historic reputation for secrecy -- are men who pride themselves on having a good reputation and doing good works for the community.
"It really rubbed me the wrong way, especially since I have a nephew who's deployed in Afghanistan," said Steve Andresen, a Union 40 member who lives in New Fairfield.
"I think it's disrespectful to the people who risk their lives to earn those medals and commendations," he said.
Banks has since been suspended by both the Connecticut and Massachusetts grand lodges, Baylor said.