TAMPA — Danny Crane bragged that he was the "most decorated veteran in Florida."
He claimed he had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, two Purple Hearts, an Air Medal and other war-related awards.
He said he was injured fighting in Iraq, he was shot six times, lost vision in his right eye, had 24 plates in his face and broke all his ribs.
He told people he did tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. And he told Veterans Affairs he had post-traumatic stress disorder.
None of this was true.
In fact, Crane was discharged from the Army after serving less than three months, and he never fought in a war.
On Tuesday, Crane admitted his lies.
The 32-year-old Riverview man pleaded guilty to federal charges of theft of government money and making a false statement, which carry up to 10 years and five years in prison, respectively.
Not only did Crane bilk the VA of more than $7,000 in medical treatment, he persuaded the organization Vacations for Veterans to give him a free trip to Hawaii.
Crane told the organization he had stage-four prostate cancer and had nine to 12 months to live. Again, not true.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Kaiser went through the list of Crane's lies Tuesday with U.S. Magistrate Anthony Porcelli.
When Porcelli asked whether what Kaiser said was correct, Crane said yes.
When he swore to tell the truth in court, Crane raised his right hand, displaying a stars-and-stripes tattoo that covered his forearm.
"There are a whole lot of veterans in this county and this American Legion here that are happy to see that happen," said Roger Dunn, past commander of American Legion Post 148 in Riverview, where Crane tried to ingratiate himself three years ago.
"We feel justice is being served," said Dunn, a Vietnam-era veteran who called Crane's actions "offensive to veterans that have been injured in combat."
Dunn, who was not in court for Crane's guilty plea, said he once had a news clipping about a hiking injury Crane suffered in Oregon. This would explain whatever injuries he might have shown VA doctors.
"He bragged about all his combat experiences," Dunn said. "He bragged about his whole crew was in a helicopter crash and he was the only survivor of the crash. … I didn't believe him the first time I met him."
Dunn said Crane would show combat pictures in which the combatants were too small to make out their faces. Crane would point to figures in the pictures and say they were him.
"He was so good he had other people really buying into his story," Dunn said. "He was good at what he did — except he got caught."