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Man charged with wearing unearned medals

Palm Springs man never served in military
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Steve Burton - Photo provided by U.S. Attorney's Office

December 2, 2009

According to U.S. Attorney's spokesman Thom Mrozek, Steve Burton had never served in any branch of the military, but wore a Marine Corps uniform with the Navy Cross along with the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and other medals to a high school reunion. The U.S. attorney's office said that Lt. Cmdr. Colleen Solanga, a U.S. Navy supply officer who was also attending the reunion, recognized the Navy Cross and knew how rarely that honor is awarded. She posed with Burton for a photo, which she sent to the FBI in June.

Further investigation revealed that Burton claimed in Internet postings that he'd served in Afghanistan and Iraq and blogged during August 2009 about being a Marine and receiving many commendations and awards. His postings also discussed engaging in combat and serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, particularly in Falluja, a city in Iraq's largely Sunni Arab Anbar province where Marines and militants battled for years.

Burton posted a picture of himself online standing on a beach at Coronado Island, California, wearing a Marines dress uniform. In the picture, he is wearing the rank of gunnery sergeant and is displaying medals including the Navy Cross, the Legion of Merit, the Navy and Marine Corps medal, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, among others.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office would not speculate on how Burton obtained the medals. CNN reported “ Internet search showed several medals -- or possibly replicas -- for sale online, despite a law banning their advertisement or sale.” According to U.S. Attorney Joseph Akrotirianakis in an interview with CNN “Even if a medal is a replica, wearing it still violates federal law.”

The U.S. Attorney’s office charged 39-year-old Steven Burton with one federal count of unauthorized wearing of military medals, a misdemeanor, that carries a one year federal prison sentence if convicted. He was released on $10,000 bond and ordered to return for a December 21 hearing.

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