Experts: Document Jacksonville veteran showed to prove he earned medals is fraudulent
By CLIFFORD DAVIS | The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville | Published: July 12, 2015
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — John James “J.J.” Lavoie could’ve simply taken off his fraudulent and unearned military medals and walked away.
But he didn’t.
In fact, he didn’t even have to take the medals off. Under the Stolen Valor Act of 2013, it isn’t a crime to simply wear unearned medals.
However, after Lavoie was featured in a Florida Times-Union June investigation, “Stolen Valor,” he approached the American Legion and at least one local news agency with a military discharge document he says proves he earned the awards.
A Times-Union investigation involving font experts and supervisors at the National Archives has determined that document to be fraudulent.
And now, federal law enforcement agencies are looking into the case involving Lavoie, who has continued to pursue his claim that he fought in Vietnam where he earned a Silver Star, Bronze Star with Valor and three Purple Hearts.
The document is as phony as the medals Lavoie wore to local veteran and school functions, the Times-Union found.
It is riddled with apparent tape marks, misspellings, incorrect acronyms and letters written in a font that didn’t yet exist at the time the document was supposedly created.
On June 11, the Times-Union detailed in the story, “Stolen Valor,” how Jacksonville veteran Bob Adelhelm, himself a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, spotted Lavoie and grew suspicious when he picked out a “V” device for valor that didn’t belong on a Silver Star.
When the Times-Union reached out to Lavoie to request proof of his claims in June, he hung up the phone.
He did not respond to requests for comment on this story either.
The American Legion, where Lavoie had once been the Post #88 commander, is carrying out a thorough investigation into the matter, said Tom Gora, who until his term ended in June, was the regional VA commander.
Lavoie reached out to First Coast News on July 1, claiming he had obtained his records that verified his claims.
“My life is crumbled,” he told First Coast News reporter Ken Amaro as Lavoie appeared to grow emotional. “I was already guilty until proven innocent.”
Amaro noted at the end of the story that the forms didn’t match up with Lavoie’s records from the National Archives. Though he told the Times-Union on Thursday, “I took them at face value.”
The DD 214, a military personnel file that every service member receives upon separation from the military, actually matched up perfectly with the National Archives showing Lavoie’s highest award was a Navy Commendation Medal.
What didn’t match up was the DD 215, normally used to correct minor mistakes on a DD 214.
The DD 215 is what listed a Silver Star, a Bronze Star with Valor, two Purple Hearts and medals associated with service in Vietnam — all, according to the document, were left off his original discharge that service members must sign stating all the information contained on it is correct.
It turns out there is a great reason it didn’t match up: The document is a forgery, the Times-Union found.
Amaro took several photos of the DD 215 and sent them to the Times-Union.
The document is dated Feb. 25, 1993.
However, the very characters used on the DD 215 to write the date, as well as list all the medals, were written in a font — Calibri — that didn’t even exist until 2004.
Jenn Contois is a font designer for Monotype, a company that has designed fonts for more than a century. The company created New Times Roman for the London Times newspaper in 1930.
“I just heard back from our senior type director,” she said. “He said, ‘It’s 100 percent Calibri.’ ”
In other words, it’s bogus.
The font’s creator, Lucas De Groot, was commissioned by Microsoft to design the font when scientific advances made a clearer font possible.
“Lucas finished the design of Calibri by the end of 2004,” said LucasFonts spokeswoman Lieselotte Schäfer from the designer’s office in Berlin.
Calibri became the standard font for Microsoft Office products beginning with Office 2007.
Besides the font, there are numerous other problems with the document.
For one, Lavoie’s name is misspelled as “Lavoe” at the top of the document. As stated, the DD 215 is supposed to correct errors of this kind. A misspelled name would render the form nearly useless if a veteran attempted to use it to obtain veterans benefits like the GI Bill, or Department of Veterans Affairs benefits.
Second, every acronym listing Lavoie’s medals is wrong as well.
The Corps, as the saying goes, has a manual for everything and awards are no exception.
The Marine Corps Individual Records Administration Manual, or IRAM, covers proper acronyms.
For example: Lavoie’s DD 215 has the Silver Star listed as SST, the Bronze Star listed as BSw/v. The manual lists the Silver Star as SSM and the Bronze Star with Valor as BSMV.
The Vietnam Service Medal, which Lavoie’s record has as VMS, should be VSM.
Finally, the font indicates the medals were not on the DD 215 when it was created in 1993. If the Marine Corps had approved Lavoie for all the extra medals after the font was invented, they wouldn’t have simply been added to the old form, according to manager Joyce McKiddy at the National Archives.
In fact there’s a note at the top of forms like Lavoie’s that states, “Any alteration to the shaded area renders this form void.”
If Lavoie had been approved for the medals after the font was created in ’04, the form would look much different, McKiddy said.
“If we were to get approval from the Marine Corps and issue a new DD 214 today, it would look totally different,” McKiddy said. “It would be on the form dated August 2009, not the old 1979 form like his was on.
“Also, the ones now are a full sheet, unlike the old ones like this that were the half-sheet.”
Beyond just the document, one man who served with Lavoie is speaking out as well.
Master Sgt. Tony Evans served with Lavoie in the early 1990s at Lavoie’s last duty station at Camp Pendleton’s 1st Maintenance Battalion, 1st Force Service Support Group.
“We were in the same battalion and we had a good relationship,” Evans said. “We were on a first-name basis.
“I called him J.J. and he called me Tony or Big Guy because I was a body builder out in California.”
Evans said when he served with him, Lavoie made no grand claims of service in Vietnam, going to Marine Recon school or earning the nation’s third-highest award for valor.
“I know he did not have all the Recon, the Silver Star, the Vietnam stuff,” Evans said. “He didn’t have all that.
“He was just a typical master sergeant.”
Like many veterans, Evans said the whole charade angers him.
“I wish I could get ahold of him and confront him myself with this, because I’ll call you out on it,” Evans said. “I just hate hearing that somebody who didn’t earn what they have and then they’re wearing it for publicity or notoriety, because he was just an average master sergeant.”
For Adelhelm, it is another sad step in a fight he never asked for, but couldn’t avoid.
“I was disappointed in his reaction; I expected more from him as a Marine senior noncommissioned officer,” Adelhelm said. “He made a mistake and should have been man enough to take his punishment, learn from it and move on.
“But he decided to double down with more lies and create a fraudulent document.”
Perhaps, Lavoie himself put it best in his interview with Amaro.
“This never should have happened,” he said.
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