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SUMNER MAN PLEADS GUILTY TO FALSE CLAIMS OF MILITARY MEDALS Claimed to be Decorated War Veteran Who Received Purple Heart and Bronze Star

December 17, 2008

STEVE A. BENNEST, 57, of Sumner, Washington, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Seattle, Washington, to Making False Claims of Military Medals and Decorations in violation of federal law.

BENNEST is a former reserve police officer for the Pacific Police Department in Pacific, Washington.

According to the plea agreement, during May 2008, BENNEST submitted writings to the Veterans Affairs Regional Office in Seattle, in support of a compensation claim, which he knew to be false, asserting that he had been awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star due to exemplary military service.

The Purple Heart and Bronze Star are among the highest decorations awarded by the United States military for service and valor. The Purple Heart is reserved for soldiers who achieved valor and were wounded in combat with the enemy. The Bronze Star is awarded to soldiers who are deemed to have made an extraordinary contribution to the United States national defense. In fact, while BENNEST served in the U.S. Army between 1969 and 1972, he was not awarded either of these medals.

It is believed that these false claims were made by BENNEST in an effort to cause a more favorable review of a compensation claim filed by BENNEST for alleged post-traumatic stress disorder. BENNEST’s claim for such benefits was denied.

It is a federal offense to make false claims of military service, awards and decorations, orally or in writing, and such offense is punishable by up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

This case was prosecuted as part of “Operation Stolen Valor,” an ongoing initiative by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General, designed to identify those making false claims of military service and committing monetary fraud upon the United States. BENNEST is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. Magistrate Brian Tsuchida on March 17, 2009.

The case was investigated by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Ronald J. Friedman.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.

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