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Florida mayoral candidate criticized for embellishing military record

George Rosario

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By RYAN GILLESPIE | The Orlando Sentinel | Published: October 19, 2016

A Groveland, Fla. mayoral candidate said on his campaign website he received a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars for his military service — three prestigious medals that he hasn't been awarded.

George Rosario's claims were discovered by military retiree Mike Vitale, who served 21 years active duty in the Army. The Clermont resident works on the side to expose those committing "stolen valor," which is known as faking or embellishing military service.

Vitale said he searched an online database that lists Purple Heart recipients and didn't find Rosario's name. The Purple Heart is awarded to soldiers killed or injured in battle. Vitale also became suspicious of the two Bronze Stars — rewarded for heroic actions — as well as a pair of photos that appeared on Rosario's campaign website.

Rosario, who faces Glen Wilson and James Smith in the Nov. 8 election, couldn't be reached, but his campaign manager, Ed Meyer, said the candidate would address the matter at a candidate forum tonight at the Trilogy community. Meyer read a statement he said Rosario wrote that attributed the claims to miscommunication and oversight.

"It's most unfortunate for one or two people who wish to defuse my ability to obtain votes in this election," he said in the statement.

Vitale said one photo showed Rosario in his Army uniform, but his medals were out of the traditional order and not placed above his pocket flap, as per Army standards.

The other showed the mayoral candidate wearing a hat with the words "Purple Heart." Vitale requested a meeting with Rosario and asked that he bring paperwork proving his medals.

When Rosario showed up to Vitale's office recently, he brought paperwork showing he was awarded a National Defense Service Medal, signifying service in the Gulf War. The ribbon has two small bronze stars on it, which Rosario's campaign manager said was the source of mistaken reference to "Bronze Stars."

Vitale said Rosario explained the hat was purchased by his wife and his "staff" maintained the website.

Said Vitale: "You're the vet, your supposed to know this better than this better than anyone ...That's ridiculous."

Vitale asked Rosario to remove the photos from his Facebook page, which the candidate did.

The statement confirmed that Rosario's "preliminary" website did say he had achieved a Purple Heart, because Rosario appealed to the military board and figured he would be quickly awarded the medal.

Due to election season, he said he didn't have time to go through with the appeal and made corrections to his website "when it was brought to my attention."

He continued, "Now, despite what has been said, I'm a proud veteran who has been awarded many medals, including two bronze stars on my DD 215 [certificate of discharge] for my overseas duty in Southwest Asia."

He said he will continue his appeal to obtain a Purple Heart.

Regarding the reference to having received "two Bronze Stars," Meyer said Rosario was referring a National Defense Service Medal — a ribbon awarded to soldiers who served in either the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War or the War on Terrorism. The ribbon has two small bronze stars on it but is much different than the Bronze Star.

Here is Rosario's statement in full:

"This, as you know is a presidential election year, as well as a local election. You all have seen the display in our presidential race showing little substance and most trashing from both sides. Groveland is no exception.

"I would like to set the record straight because I have nothing to hide regarding a recent rumor. I have a webpage that describes my achievements. It did contain a Purple Heart in my preliminary webpage.

"I was to appeal to the military board, when I put the Purple Heart on my webpage thinking it would get approved quickly. Because I was busy with my election, I did not have the time to do my appeal, so I wanted to make corrections to my site when it was brought to my attention.

"I will be in the process of appealing to the Army military board to continue to obtain my Purple Heart. Now, despite what has been said, I'm a proud veteran who has been awarded many medals, including two bronze stars on my DD 215 for my overseas duty in Southwest Asia.

"It's most unfortunate for one or two people who wish to defuse my ability to obtain votes in this election. This is why I wanted to set the record straight. So most important, I would like to focus on the issues of the city and Trilogy, rather than the negativity that brings no results."

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©2016 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
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