Rick Duncan spoke passionately and knowledgeably about homeless veterans and he knew well the intricacies of the Department of Veterans Affairs. He even helped found the Colorado Veterans Alliance.
He campaigned for Democratic candidates, who knew him to be a proudly gay former Marine captain who was at the Pentagon on 9/11 and suffered brain trauma and post-traumatic stress in Iraq.
But in an interview from jail, Duncan — who has since been revealed to be Richard Strandlof, a charismatic drifter with a history of mental illness and no military experience — told The New York Times that he became interested in veterans issues after meeting a Vietnam veteran. He began studying and slowly the Rick Duncan persona emerged. He insisted, though, that he had broken no laws and was working for good causes. Strandlof, 32, is in jail in Colorado Springs on a warrant for driving with a suspended license, while the FBI investigates whether his lies violated federal law, according to the paper.
He was linked to the campaigns of Colorado Democrats Hal Bidlack, who lost a bid for Congress; Jared Polis, who was elected to Congress; and Mark Udall, a representative who was subsequently elected to the Senate, the Times reported. The Colorado Veterans Alliance has since disbanded.
Some veterans told the Times that they suspected something wasn’t right. Among the clues: Strandlof claimed to have lost a finger in Iraq, but he still had all 10 digits.
"We attributed that to his wounds and to his PTSD, and so were all easy on him," said Joe Barrera, a Vietnam veteran whom Strandlof befriended.