Former leader in California military community charged with lying about Purple Heart
By JANIS MARA | The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif. (Tribune News Service) | Published: March 18, 2016
A disgraced former leader in Marin’s military community and one-time proprietor of a gym that trained young people for service has been charged in federal court with lying about having received a Purple Heart.
Gregory Bruce Allen, 68, of San Rafael, owner of the now-shuttered San Rafael House of Steel, was charged in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on Wednesday with one count of fraudulent representations about receipt of military decorations or medals, a misdemeanor. According to allegations in the court documents, Allen used his fake Purple Heart to obtain donations for his business.
The court case comes nearly a year after a 2015 investigation by the Marines’ Western Recruiting Region revealed that Allen didn’t serve in the Marine Corps, as he had long claimed. The results of the investigation received wide publicity and Allen closed his gym.
Allen will be arraigned March 25, according to his attorney, Charles Dresow of San Rafael. Dresow had no further comment, and Allen could not be reached for comment.
The statutory maximum penalty for the offense is one year in prison, a $100,000 fine and a year supervised release. Allen was named in a document known as an information.
“I knew it (the charge) was coming,” said Ray Mullin, president of the Marin County United Veterans Council. “I was always getting updates from the FBI” during its investigation of Allen, he said.
“It’s a slap in the veterans’ faces,” Mullin said of those who pretend to have served and received medals when they have not.
Congress passed the Stolen Valor Act of 2013, amending the federal criminal code to make it a crime to fraudulently claim having received any of a series of military decorations and awards with the intention of obtaining money, property or other tangible benefit from convincing someone that the award was rightfully given.
For about 10 years, Allen identified himself as a retired Marine Corps lieutenant. However, though he served eight months in the Navy and left with a medical discharge, he did not serve in the Marines, Sgt. Alfred Lopez, public affairs director for the Recruiting Station San Francisco for the U.S. Marine Corps, said last year.
Allen held fundraisers for House of Steel during which he wore a U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant’s uniform, claiming to have a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star and collecting donations for the business, FBI Special Agent Melissa Vanek wrote in an affidavit.
The Bronze Star is awarded for heroic or meritorious achievement in a combat zone. The Purple Heart is awarded to a member of the military who has been wounded or killed in action.
In the affidavit, Vanek said that from 2013 to 2015, about $23,000 in donated checks were deposited into bank accounts controlled by Allen.
Allen served as president of the Marin County chapter of the Military Officers Association of America at various times based on his assertion that he had been a first lieutenant with the Marines, according to the legal papers.
Mullin said the military community in Marin might have forgiven Allen if he had taken responsibility for his actions.
“We even said in retrospect that if he had just come clean when he got nailed, if he had just said, ‘I wanted to create this military atmosphere in the gym, I created a persona,’ but he didn’t do that,” Mullin said. “He kept saying, ‘I have my DD-214 (a document that proves military service).’ That put every veteran in Marin County not exactly his buddy any more.”
Mullin said Allen did “quite a lot of good.”
“His training did benefit the young people who worked with him. My friend’s nephew benefited from the physical instruction and discipline,” Mullin said. “He was floundering before he went to the gym and then he found some direction and went into the Navy and he is succeeding there.”
John Quinn, an Army veteran and adjutant of the Veterans of the Foreign Wars Post 72 in San Rafael, said of Allen, “He fooled everyone for a long time. He was at every ceremony at the Civic Center — Veterans Day, Memorial Day — and had his troop (of youngsters) marching. He did a lot of good things,” said Quinn, who said he personally was not involved with Allen or House of Steel.
“It was painful to see that happen to him but also he was a fake,” Quinn said. “It made you feel bad, like you’ve been had.”
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