TACOMA, Wash. — A one-time Fort Lewis soldier who trumped up his military experience in a TV interview last year is facing time in prison on charges that he deserted his unit and falsely claimed to be a combat veteran.
Kevin Shakely of Sacramento, Calif., allegedly evaded law enforcement agencies for seven years, once reportedly slipping through their grasp at SeaTac Airport.
When Army police started raising pressure on him in August, Shakely, 28, contacted Sacramento’s KTXL Fox 40 News and claimed he was an honorably discharged Iraq and Afghanistan veteran being harassed by the Army.
“This is not how you treat somebody that went through what I had to go through and made the sacrifices I had to make,” he told KTXL.
Shakely in fact spent less than six months in uniform before deserting. Army records show he completed his initial training and spent just six days at his first duty station – Fort Lewis, before its reorganization as Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
He’s in custody at Lewis-McChord awaiting a Jan. 22 court-martial. He is in the Army jail because he’s considered a flight risk, base spokesman Joe Piek said.
The Army filed eight criminal charges against him. Three are for his alleged desertion; four stemmed from the lies he’s accused of telling the television station.
He’s also accused of malingering. Shakely reportedly was using a wheelchair when California police arrested him, but he did not need one when he was handed over to Army custody. The malingering charge implies he was faking a disability, though Lewis-McChord Provost Marshall Maj. Jay Cash could not say if that was the case.
The maximum punishment for all of his alleged offenses tops 25 years under military law. Shakely has a pretrial agreement that will cap his sentence. The Army would not disclose that cap before Shakely’s court-martial.
Veterans found Shakely’s story suspicious as soon as it aired. Skeptics posted the KTXL piece to the blog This Ain’t Hell, which identifies people who publicly tout false military experience.
They keyed in on Shakely’s assertion in the interview that he had not received his proper discharge papers because of a mix-up in the mail.
“I’m always told I’m going to be mailed the papers and then something always ends up happening to the discharge papers,” he told KTXL.
It is unusual that someone would wait seven years to clear up that kind of mistake because it would hinder a veteran’s access to benefits he earned in service or his ability to verify past employment.
“I’m glad they caught him, and I’m glad he’s facing all these charges,” said John Lilyea of West Virginia, a retired Army noncommissioned officer who runs This Ain’t Hell.
President Barack Obama in June signed the Stolen Valor Act, which makes it a crime for civilians to lie about military service for material gain.
Shakely’s offenses, however, fall under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. He faces two counts of making false statements, one of which is for lying about his service to KTXL and another for portraying himself as a noncommissioned officer instead of a private in that interview.
Shakely joined the Army in January 2004 and listed Grass Valley, Calif., as his hometown. He was assigned to Fort Lewis on June 2 of that year. He deserted on June 8.
Police in Iowa arrested him after a traffic stop in the summer of 2006. Army records show he escaped law enforcement custody during a handover at SeaTac Airport on Aug. 27, 2006, in which Iowa police were supposed to give him up to military authorities.
“He just kind of ran away and found his way back to Sacramento,” Cash said.
His flight from custody at the airport stood out to Lewis-McChord police last year when they looked at an Army list of alleged deserters, Cash said. An investigator started tracking down Shakely last summer, when the Army published a be-on-the-lookout notice for him to California law enforcement agencies. An officer from the California Highway Patrol picked up Shakely in November.