Skip to comments.Pretenders to glory: Exposing Navy SEAL fakes
Posted on 12/10/2001 6:01:40 AM PST by csvset
Pretenders to glory: Exposing Navy SEAL fakes
By BILL BURKE, The Virginian-Pilot
© December 9, 2001
Robert Anthony Nolan.
He regaled some with tales of missions he conducted as a Navy SEAL, of clandestine operations in Central America. Nolan even persuaded one investor to pony up $30,000 when he told her about his covert activities, then presented her with papers that showed he had been honorably discharged.
But it was all a lie, according to federal authorities and military personnel records. Nolan, 38, never served as a SEAL. There were no covert missions in Central America. And to avoid a court-martial, Nolan received a less-than-honorable discharge from the Navy in June 1992 after going AWOL for 53 days.
Nolan's charade unraveled on Nov. 8 when he pleaded guilty in Norfolk federal court to making false statements to federal agents. He faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
The masquerade surfaced in February when an organization that exposes SEAL imposters posted his name on its Internet ``Wall of Shame.''
Hampton Roads is rich in the romance of frogmen and the famed SEAL Team 2 and owns bragging rights to TV ``Survivor'' Rudy Boesch, probably the most celebrated SEAL of all.
And it swarms with SEAL wannabes like Nolan.
Suspicious girlfriends, employers, ex-wives and real SEALs in Hampton Roads have reported 47 men to CyberSEALs, the group that maintains the Internet site. None of the names shows up in the Navy's official database of every man who ever completed training in the elite commando unit.
The database is maintained by the Colorado-based Naval Special Warfare Archives, a group of former SEALs who expose men who falsely claim to be current or former members of the commando unit.
The Navy gathers the information and provides it to the Warfare Archives. The database contains the names of the more than 9,700 men who have served as SEALs and is updated with each graduating Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs class.
In addition to Nolan, would-be SEALs with local ties include a schoolteacher, a former Secret Service agent, a car dealer, a merchant seaman, an NROTC officer candidate, a real estate agent, a limousine driver, active-duty military members, men who have never served in any branch of the armed forces, and barroom and chat-room poseurs.
The 47 range in age from 22 to 62. Some hope to impress women with tales of derring-do, others to boost their self-image or even use the SEAL cachet to get a job or a promotion, according to those who would like to see them ``outed.''
CyberSEALs has verified that Nolan and six others are imposters and have added their names to the ``Wall of Shame.'' The 40 other local men are being investigated to determine if their names should be there too, a CyberSEALs spokeswoman said.
Nearly 700 names have been posted on the ``Wall of Shame'' by CyberSEALs, whose members include ex-SEALs and a former Navy wife who once lived in Hampton Roads.
As word of the Web site and its mission spreads, the list grows.
A former girlfriend of one of the Hampton Roads men wrote on the CyberSEALs' Internet complaint form: ``I want to know if he is telling the truth. He seems to be making up quite a bit of stuff.''
``I had heard about the phonies and it dawned on me that I may have worked with one,'' wrote another.
A woman said bluntly that she ``will not marry a liar.''
``He uses this claim for gain at our place of employment,'' wrote a co-worker.
Dean C. Ashman, a teacher at Chesapeake's Western Branch High School, says he has stopped claiming to be a SEAL
Charles A. ''Skip'' Moeller won't discuss any claims he may have made about being a SEAL. The Navy says he never was in the service.
Blurring fact and fiction Organizations that expose imposters say claims by bogus Rambos with enhanced military resumes have reached epidemic levels.
Nationwide, pretenders to military glory have included a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, private investigators, judges, a school superintendent, politicians and political aspirants, actor Brian Dennehy, police officers, the operators of a Vietnam veterans museum, a Veterans of Foreign Wars post commander, preachers, janitors, murderers, even a transvestite.
Some claim to have been with special operations forces, such as SEALs, Rangers and Green Berets. Others pose as former prisoners of war. And there are those who claim to be recipients of the Medal of Honor, the nation's most prestigious military citation.
Randy Lee Everette, 44, of Virginia Beach, a former Navy man, operates a Web site dedicated to honoring Medal of Honor recipients and exposing fakes. Chuck Schantag of Skidmore, Mo., and his wife run a site that exposes POW imposters. Schantag said complaints mushroomed from two in 1997 to 7,000 last year. The site received one complaint about a man who spins his yarns at an Oceanfront nightspot in Virginia Beach.
Psychologists who have studied the phenomenon describe a condition called pseudologia fantastica: the blurring of fact and fantasy so thoroughly that the imposter almost convinces himself that he is a war hero.
But Schantag, a former Marine, cares little about the psychological makeup of fake military heroes. A couple years ago he met a retired Air Force colonel and Medal of Honor winner, George E. ``Bud'' Day, who endured years of torture in North Vietnam.
``I asked him how he got through the hellhole in Hanoi,'' Schantag said. ``He told me, `Surviving that was the easy part. . . . I would never do anything to disgrace my family, my country or my God.'
``That was the most profound thing I've ever heard,'' Schantag said. ``Ever since then, I've had a burning hatred for the people who would steal their honor.''
A smooth operator The future couldn't have looked brighter for boyishly handsome Robert Nolan, once named sailor of the year on the carrier America.
Kent W. Ewing was skipper of the America when Nolan served there a decade ago. Ewing was impressed enough with his former sailor to sign as co-guarantor when Nolan leased a new $68,959 Mercedes S320 for his business in 1998, according to court records.
The Virginia Beach company Nolan founded, OmniTrade International Inc., signed contracts to sell millions of dollars worth of goods such as food and construction materials in Egypt, said Stephen Steinhilber, a former Nolan business associate and Virginia Beach restaurateur.
The business seemed to have the earmarks of success. Last year, Nolan was named runner-up for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in Virginia. His resume featured letters from Gov. Jim Gilmore and Attorney General Mark Earley, Sen. George Allen and U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, lauding his business accomplishments.
But all was not as it seemed.
Employees at the Virginia Beach office building that housed OmniTrade International said that one day early this year, a small green car with the license plate REPO 1 pulled up behind the late-model Lexus Nolan then drove. A tow truck soon appeared and removed the Lexus.
In July, after OmniTrade had fallen behind on its rent and was preparing to leave the office building, two men showed up at Nolan's office and repossessed the exotic fish he kept, leaving behind the empty tank, employees said.
In August, FBI agents arrested Nolan in Virginia Beach. He had made false statements to federal agents regarding bank loans and fraudulent insurance invoices, according to papers filed in Norfolk federal court. He had also forged his landlord's signature on a lease and falsified his military discharge papers and documents needed to export fish to Egypt, the papers claim.
He had told several people he was a former Navy SEAL, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Seidel, who prosecuted Nolan. He lured investors by posing as a former secret operative with the Navy, according to court papers. He told a girlfriend ``he had been involved in covert operations and knew how to make bombs.''
When a Scandinavian businessman demanded that Nolan pay a $63,000 debt, Nolan told the businessman he had been a member of the special forces with the U.S. military, according to testimony by an FBI agent who investigated Nolan.
Nolan, referring to the businessman and his colleagues, said, ``They better stay out of the United States because they didn't know who they were messing with,'' the agent testified.
On its ``Wall of Shame,'' CyberSEALs says Nolan claimed to be a member of Seal teams 2 and 6. The group gave him a five-star rating, its most ignoble designation. The rating means the ``claimant is `incorrigible' and continues to make claims despite proof that his claims are not supported by government records.''
Nolan is being held in the Western Tidewater Regional Jail pending a February sentencing. He declined requests for an interview.
Setting an example Dean C. Ashman said it all began innocently around 1995, and his motives were purely altruistic.
Several of his technical education students at Chesapeake's Western Branch High School asked Ashman, 54, a former Navy chief, about the prospects of a military career.
``I had some students that were very, very marginal,'' Ashman said. ``They started asking questions. I don't know how it came about, but they asked me if I had been a SEAL, and I for some reason said yes to give credence to what I was saying to them.''
When Mike Arrowood joined the Western Branch faculty in 1999, Ashman said he was still telling students that he was an ex-SEAL, ``but only to set up an example for kids to look at.''
Arrowood had been a SEAL. Ashman had not.
``When I heard (Arrowood) was coming to the building, I thought, `Oh, geez, maybe I shouldn't have been doing that,' '' Ashman said.
Arrowood's classroom was two doors from Ashman's.
``As kids filtered into class, they'd say, `You used to be a SEAL? Do you know Mr. Ashman? He was a SEAL too,' '' Arrowood recalled in an interview.
When Arrowood, a veteran of SEAL teams 1 and 2, posed questions about Ashman's SEAL background, he gave the wrong answers, Arrowood said. He knew his colleague was an imposter.
Arrowood, 43, demanded that Ashman apologize and set the record straight with his students.
``But he didn't come clean,'' said Arrowood, who now teaches at Hickory High in Chesapeake. ``If he had, we could have settled this just between us.''
Arrowood reported Ashman to CyberSEALs. Retired Navy Capt. Larry Bailey, a former SEAL then active in the Internet site, called Ashman on a Sunday night in February 2000 and told him to apologize to Arrowood within 48 hours or his name would appear on the site's ``Wall of Shame.''
Arrowood said Ashman did not apologize and on Feb. 15, 2000, Ashman's name was added to the ``Wall of Shame,'' where it remains today.
Ashman insists that he did apologize to Arrowood and said he does not recall Arrowood asking him to set the record straight with his students.
Ashman said he has stopped claiming to be an ex-SEAL and regrets that he ever did so.
``This has been tearing me apart,'' he said. ``I feel lower than whale scum.''
But he said he never told his students war stories, ``all that Rambo garbage.''
``I made no boasts, no claims that I did anything heroic, that I fought anywhere, that I won any medals.
``Was it dishonorable? I don't know. But I know it kept some kids in school.''
No record of service The Ohio license plate read ``SKIP M.'' Smaller letters at the bottom spelled ``NAVY SEAL.''
Randy Everette, Medal of Honor sleuth, was on the case.
As Everette checked out the car parked in the Woodberry Forest apartment complex in Virginia Beach on an autumn afternoon, two men approached.
``I think I know why you're here,'' said one of the men, a Navy vet. ``And I'm glad you are.''
Charles A. ``Skip'' Moeller, 54, who drove the Chevrolet Cavalier with the Ohio plates, had been telling his war stories long enough, the old vet said. It was time for the truth to come out.
And just what was the truth? The stories Moeller told several people were impressive. Retired Navy captain. Former SEAL. Graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. Recipient of meritorious decorations, which he displayed on a wall in his apartment. One-time CIA operative.
Several people told The Virginian-Pilot that Moeller had told such stories, including the Navy vet and others who live or work at Woodberry Forest, where Moeller rents an apartment. When Moeller spoke of his SEAL duties, he was always vague about dates and tours of duty, they said.
The car he drives bears the Navy SEAL license plate. His personal checks identify him as ``Capt. Charles A. Moeller, USN-Ret.'' The message on his answering machine identifies him as ``Captain Charles Moeller.'' In divorce papers in Circuit Court, Moeller lists his occupation as ``Ret. Navy.''
Moeller's claims prompted complaints to Everette, who maintains the Medal of Honor Web site, and to CyberSEALs.
Records show that Moeller did not graduate from the Naval Academy. He is not listed in the Navy SEAL database. And Freedom of Information requests filed with the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis and the Navy Personnel Command in Millington, Tenn. turned up the same result: Charles A. Moeller never served in the Navy.
Contacted by phone recently, Moeller refused to discuss claims he may have made about being a SEAL or a decorated veteran. He said he draws a pension from the State Department. Asked about his claims to be a retired Navy captain, he said, ``That was a long time ago.''
In a follow-up interview, Moeller said he legally changed his name a few years ago and served in the Navy under the other name. But he did not provide the name.
There is no record of anyone with Moeller's Social Security number in the military service records database.
``Even if he legally changed his name, his Social Security number wouldn't change,'' said Michael McLellan, deputy public affairs officer for the Navy Personnel Command.
Last weekend, Everette posted Moeller's name on his Internet site's ``Hall of Shame'' for allegedly making false claims that he was a Medal of Honor recipient.
Telling tall tales Some pretenders to glory spin wondrous yarns.
A Hampton Roads limousine driver who has told people he was a SEAL ``claims to have been on three separate assaults to capture a Vietnamese general known as `The Butcher of Hanoi,' '' a co-worker wrote on a CyberSEALs complaint form.
He ``claims his body is a registered lethal weapon. Many of the tales he has told bespeak . . . great heroism.''
Schantag, the Missourian who uncovers POW frauds, tells of the ``dog-bone man,'' an imposter from Arkansas who tried to impress women with a fanciful story of escape from a Vietnam prison.
The man claimed his North Vietnamese captors nailed him to a tree, then tossed him into a ditch and left him for dead. While a guard stood sentry, the camp dog accidentally fell into the pit. Weak and starving, the POW choked the dog with his bare hands, then ate the animal's flesh raw. Thus fortified, he removed the largest and sharpest of the dog's ribs, climbed stealthily from the pit and used the bone to stab the guard to death. Then he made his way to freedom.
Sometimes imposters pay a price for their deceptions.
Everette has posted the bios of nearly five dozen would-be Medal of Honor winners on his Internet ``Hall of Shame.'' One, Floridian Jackie Albert Stern, bought his medal at a flea market. An enterprising detective persuaded Stern to pose for a photo while wearing the medal.
Impersonating a Medal of Honor winner is a crime that can result in jail time and a fine. When a judge sentenced Stern to one year of probation in December 1996, he ordered Stern to write a letter of apology to every living recipient of the Medal of Honor.
If Stern sent a copy of that letter to Lt. Col. Howard V. Lee in Virginia Beach, it apparently did not arrive. Lee, one of 149 surviving Medal of Honor recipients and the only one who lives in Hampton Roads, said he does not recall receiving a letter from Stern.
But at 68, Lee still remembers clearly what happened in a steamy jungle in Vietnam in 1966.
One true hero Lee, then a Marine captain, led several members of his company on a bloody and daring mission that began Aug. 8 and did not end until the next day. Though temporarily blinded in his right eye by a North Vietnamese hand grenade that landed about two feet away, Lee helped rescue a Marine reconnaissance unit under withering enemy fire.
On Oct. 25, 1967, President Lyndon Johnson awarded him the Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony.
The gold medallion rests in its original case, tucked in a dresser drawer in his bedroom. The star-shaped medal, which hangs from a blue sash adorned with 13 white stars, has lost its original sheen and is tarnished with age.
Lee has never polished his Medal of Honor.
He said he has read about men who make false claims of wartime heroism, some even posing as Medal of Honor recipients. But he has never met one. He is more bewildered than enraged by those who would steal his glory.
And what would he say to an imposter if he came face to face with one?
``I'd just say, `Excuse me, but to the best of my knowledge, you're not a Medal of Honor winner.' ''
www.cyberseals.org (Lists men who claim to be current or former Navy SEALS)
www.pownetwork.org (Gives the names of those who claim to be former prisoners of war)
members.home.net/mohmedal (Identifies those who claim to have won the Medal of Honor)
Reach Bill Burke at 446-2589.
|Tell us another one!|
Maybe they read the book. Ya' Think?
No doubt there are ways of ways of tracing Air Force Combat
Control types or any other poseurs who are using these claims to advance their interests...
As I understand it, Delta is a combined service from all branches...
You'll need to follow the twig back to the tree..
I believe I have seen cyberSEALs refer folks to appropriate channels as well..
Same thing happened to me a few years back. Not having the honor of having served on the military, I was staring to get taken in by the bar talk. I was saved from further embarrasment by an ex-L.U.R.P. , who asked the guy if he had a S.E.A.L. tattoo? Sure enough, the fellow rolled up his sleeve and showed off the tattoo on his arm. The Vietnam Vet grabbed a butter knife and started scraping the guy's arm with it...., it started to blur....seems the guy drew it on in ink. Never saw him again.
It was explained to me by a genuine SEAL that Team Six is the training for the foreign, covert, hostile, James Bond-type assignments.
Unless he was trying to show these kids the example that your falsehoods will surely be found out I fail to see the point.
" Tricks and treachery are the practice of fools, that don't have brains enough to be honest. "
~ Benjamin Franklin