Veterans regroup to target fakes - FOX 13 News

Veterans regroup to target fakes

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RIVERVIEW (FOX 13) -

Danny Russell Crane likes to talk about his long, distinguished military career with anyone who will listen at the American Legion in Riverview, Florida.

"I met Danny Crane when he came in here, supposedly on leave from Afghanistan, from what I understand," recalled Roger Dunn, a former commander at Post 148.

Dunn, who served in the Navy, says he found it odd that Crane told so many detailed war stories.

"Ninety-nine percent of combat vets don't want to talk about what happened. He brought out photo albums and pasted his medals all over him."

In fact, photos show him wearing many medals, including a Purple Heart on his leather motorcycle vest when he went on rides with the group.

Veterans seeking membership are required to produce their discharge paper, called a DD-214. Some members at the post spotted problems with Crane's document.

"The colonel had seen his 214 and approached him and first told him he had too many ribbons on his ribbon rack. Danny got irritated and turned around and left the ceremony."

We showed the form to Patricia Driscoll, the executive director of the Armed Forces Foundation, a national nonprofit which supports veterans.

"This would be a big red flag to me," Driscoll offered as she scanned the document. She said the form he used is outdated and no longer used in the Army, and the date of separation -- December 25, 2010 -- jumps out at her.

"Christmas eve, Christmas Day; nobody in the government is working, that's not going to happen."

Driscoll says the Armed Forces Foundation carefully screens applicants looking for help and her organization has turned away people claiming to be vets with bogus stories and paperwork.

"People want us to take them at their word, but we have to verify everything."

But Crane was apparently able to fool some veterans groups. He was able to join the Distinguished Flying Cross Society and he also convinced another veterans group to send him to Hawaii to visit Pearl Harbor.

"I'm embarrassed for his family that he would even do something like that," said Melissa Crane, who met Danny in high school. They married, had two kids, and are now divorced.

She says her husband has conned a lot of people. She showed FOX 13 a picture of him in 1997 in uniform taken during boot camp.

"I later found out that he was dishonorably discharged for theft,"she explained.

FOX 13 contacted the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. While much of the information is protected without written consent by Crane, we do know he entered the military in 1997 on December 30 and was discharged just 63 days later -- still a private.

We tried to contact Danny Crane and stopped by his last-known address in Riverview, but nobody was home. A few days later, we received an email from somebody who identified himself as Danny Crane. We offered to meet him anytime for an interview to hear his story, but he never made himself available.

"If he feels pressured, he runs," Melissa Crane said.

She explained that her ex-husband has lived all over the country and is very good at disappearing. "He's good at what he does, he's very crafty."

Which seems especially odd since, at one point, he apparently was looking for publicity from FOX 13.

"I keep tabs on him and I had seen on his Facebook that he had written on Jen Epstein's wall. I clicked on it and went though it and found what he said and I didn't know what to think."

She was stunned when she saw an email supposedly written by a member of the American Legion, exhausting Crane's 14-year military record.

The highlights:

  • In 2009, he lost four of his flight crew members.
  • He was shot 6 times in the back all while treating six Americans
  • He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, two Bronze Stars, three Purple Hearts

"Oh my goodness," Melissa Crane continued. "False, false, and false."

She believes her ex-husband needs to be stopped. "We just don't want anyone else to be hurt by this, you know?"

Internet groups like Guardian of Valor and the Fake Warrior Project have now exposed Crane and put him in the stolen valor hall of shame.

The president of the Flying Cross Society, Michael O'Neil, sent FOX 13 an email expressing disgust for ever allowing Crane to join.

"I'm appalled at the gall of persons like Danny Russell Crane, who web their lies and deceit for their own benefit without regard to the real warriors who deserve our respect and kindness."

The nonprofit, with over 6,000 members is now also putting the word out on Crane.

Roger Dunn says fellow vets at Post 148 worry the recent United States Supreme Court ruling -- which means lying about military service is no longer a crime -- will only make the problem of stolen valor worse.

"It should be a crime," stated Dunn. "To me, it's a disgrace to the vets who have given their life."

The high court overturned the 2005 law, saying it violated free speech protected by the First Amendment. However, some lawmakers have introduced new legislation which is currently working its way though Congress. The bipartisan legislation makes a key change to the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 by punishing anyone who benefits or profits from misrepresenting military service.

Supporters believe, based on the Supreme Court's ruling, the new legislation would be constitutional because it focuses only on those who seek to benefit from misrepresenting military service and awards.

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