(AP) A World War II Navy veteran photographed wearing a Medal of Honor at a Memorial Day event could face federal charges because it was a fake that he bought for $500, authorities say.
William Kovick, 76, acknowledged he bought the medal and four other military honors, and he surrendered them last week.
FBI investigators say Kovick acknowledged that he bought the Medal of Honor in 1977 for $500. He also said that he mail-ordered a Navy Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart medals and wore them along with the Medal of Honor.
Ordering and owning unearned medals is legal, but wearing or selling them is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
“The intent of the federal law … is to maintain the integrity of all the military awards and medals,” said FBI Agent Thomas Cottone Jr. “People in our military — particularly our veterans — pay such a high price. Some pay with their lives.”
The Justice Department will decide whether to bring charges.
Kovick told the Huron Daily Tribune of Bad Axe that he served in the Navy in 1944-46 and 1950-53. He said the only medals he earned were an Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal from World War II and a United Nations Korean Medal from the Korean War.
Kovick came under investigation after his photo appeared on the newspaper’s front page on May 31, showing him wearing the Medal of Honor at a Memorial Day event.
Vietnam veteran Doug Sterner of Pueblo, Colo. who operates the Web site a Web site dedicated to Medal of Honor recipients, contacted Cottone at the FBI’s New Jersey office.
In 1996, Cottone led an investigation that discovered that a Defense Department supplier, Lordship Industries of Hauppauge, N.Y., made and sold hundreds of fake Medals of Honor. The company pleaded guilty to illegally selling 300 of them and paid a $80,000 fine.
On Thursday, FBI Agent Steve Flattery from the bureau’s Bay City office and Caseville police Chief Jamie Learman knocked on Kovick’s door and asked to see the Medal of Honor.
“I spoke with the gentleman and confronted him about the issue. I showed him the photograph, and explained it was illegal to wear a Medal of Honor you did not earn,” Flattery said. “I asked for the contraband items, and he gave them to me.”
There are 122 living Medal of Honor recipients. Cottone said most recipients get them posthumously.
It is given “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty, in actual combat against an armed enemy force.”
Cottone said people pretend to be Medal of Honor winners for a variety of reasons, both financial and personal.
“They all know what they’re doing,” he told The Saginaw News. “There should be absolutely no sympathy for these guys.”