local man pleads guilty to faking military service and conducting phony raffle to aid veterans
St. Louis, MO – MATTHEW BUCKINGHAM posted an advertisement on Craigslist, in January 2013, indicating he was involved with a veterans charity identified as "Veterans Aid From All Foreign Wars." The advertisement indicated the charity was designed to "help wounded warriors" and "sell raffle tickets [to aid] war veterans." Through the advertisement, Buckingham solicited individuals to help him promote his charitable events and he provided a contact number.
According to court documents, in his advertisement he stated that he planned to hold a raffle on July 4, 2013. Tickets would cost $5 each and he identified raffle awards of "First Prize: $3,000; Second Prize: $2,000; and Third Prize: $1,000" Through the advertisement, Buckingham solicited individuals to help him promote his charitable events and he provided a contact number. Subsequently, a number of female individuals in the St. Louis area inquired and responded.
Buckingham arranged to meet the individuals who responded at various restaurants and bars in the St. Louis area and introduced himself as "Tyler Matthews." He had individuals complete employment applications or other documents indicating their desire to aid and assist him in his charitable activities. Matthews/Buckingham showed applicants a binder with various documents that purportedly indicated he was affiliated with the military and other documents that appeared to legitimize his charitable activities. Commonly, during conversations with prospective applicants, he claimed to be employed by various agencies or Departments of the United States, including that he served in the military in Afghanistan and Iraq; he was a Marine and had been injured during the war; he worked as a military officer and a sniper; since his return to the United States from overseas, he worked with the Department of Homeland Security and the United States Coast Guard; and, he presently worked in north St. Louis in various positions including "undercover" work infiltrating gangs and otherwise combating crime.
He told them they would earn $10 per hour, or half the amount of money they collected from ticket sales. In January and February 2013, he recruited approximately five to ten associates to assist him in selling "raffle" tickets at various bar locations in the St. louis area. At the end of each evening, associates gave Matthews/Buckingham the proceeds from the sales which he used to pay various expenses such as gas for transportation to the various restaurants and bar locations; paraphernalia for the individuals; and "fees" or earnings that he paid the associates who assisted him. No money remained after covering the various costs.
Ultimately, Buckingham did not hold a raffle on July 4, 2013 and he distributed no money from the ticket sales to wounded or homeless soldiers, veterans, or other military personnel. The defendant was not, and has never been, employed by the Department of Defense or the Department of Homeland Security. Similarly, he never served in the United States military or the United States Coast Guard. He never held a position that permitted him the authority to conduct criminal investigations or arrest individuals. As such, his previously detailed representations that he was an agent or employee of a Department or Agency of the United States were false and the defendant knew they were false.
"For more than two hundred years, brave Americans have heeded the call to serve their country. We honor them for their loyal and dedicated service. It disheartens me that this individual falsely represented himself as war veteran and a current member of the Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security in order to garner support for his raffle scheme. I applaud the efforts of the Coast Guard Investigative Service and the Department of Justice in bringing this case to fruition. I also appreciate KMOV-TV for bringing this case to our attention," said Rear Admiral Kevin Cook, Eighth Coast Guard District Commander.
Buckingham, St. Louis County, pled guilty to one felony count of impersonating a federal agent before United States District Judge Henry Autrey. Sentencing has been set for November 25, 2013.
This charge carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and/or fines up to $250,000. In determining the actual sentences, a Judge is required to consider the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which provide recommended sentencing ranges.
This case was investigated by the Coast Guard Investigative Service and the Missouri Attorney General’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Matthew Drake is handling the case for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.