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Stolen Valor: Sacramento Man Pleads Guilty to Wearing Unearned Silver Star Medal

U.S. Attorney’s Office December 07, 2009
  • Eastern District of California (916) 554-2700

SACRAMENTO, CA—United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced today that KENNETH JEROME NELSON, 60, of Sacramento, pleaded guilty before United States Magistrate Judge Edmund F. Brennan to wearing a Silver Star that had not been awarded to him. Under the Stolen Valor Act, which was enacted in late 2006, it is a misdemeanor offense to wear military medals that were not in fact awarded, or to falsely claim to have been awarded such medals. The Silver Star is the third highest decoration awarded by the U.S. Military.

This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

U.S. Attorney Wagner said, “The Silver Star is a symbol of heroism, patriotism, and honor. Mr. Nelson would seek to diminish the sacrifice of others by wearing the unearned medal. He received years of praise and admiration from the public that he did not deserve, and now he is exposed as a fraud.”

According to Assistant United States Attorney Camil A. Skipper, who is prosecuting the case, NELSON wore a Silver Star that he claimed had been awarded during his service as a Marine in Vietnam. In addition, he claimed to have earned three Purple Hearts, the third after he stepped on a spike and received an ankle wound while carrying an injured fellow soldier on his back for 26 miles. None of these claims were true as NELSON did not serve in any combat role with the U.S. Military in Vietnam or elsewhere and did not receive any decorations or medals. NELSON, who was known by many as an unofficial caretaker of the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial, had been featured in local television and newspaper stories in which he was described as a former Marine who served in Vietnam for three years and received medals for valor. As part of the plea agreement, NELSON surrendered his medals today after the hearing.

NELSON is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Brennan on March 1, 2010, at 10:00 a.m. The maximum statutory penalty for a violation of wearing an unearned Silver Star is one year in prison and a fine of $100,000. However, the actual sentence will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables, and any applicable statutory sentencing factors.

The United Attorney’s Office has vigorously sought to protect the interests of veterans in Stolen Valor prosecutions. Earlier this year, Eric Gene Piotrowski, 41, of Elk Grove, was sentenced to 12 months probation and 200 hours of community service for falsely claiming to have been awarded a Silver Star for service during Operation Desert Storm. In 2008, Michael Allan Fraser, 63, of Oroville, was sentenced to 100 hours of community service and a fine of $500 for falsely claiming to have been awarded two Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars for heroism in Vietnam.

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