Fake Marine Who Wore Medals at Class Reunion Sentenced to Probation

Man is sentenced to a year of probation and ordered to undergo mental health counseling

By Scott Weber
|  Monday, Mar 15, 2010  |  Updated 1:52 PM PDT
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Steven Douglas Burton apparently wanted to impress his classmates at his Alhambra High School reunion. He showed up wearing a Marine Corps dress uniform studded with medals including the Navy Cross, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Legion of Merit badge and Combat Action ribbon.

Normally that would be impressive except he never served in the military.

Burton was sentenced Monday to a year of probation and ordered to undergo mental health counseling for impersonating a U.S. Marine.

The 39-year-old defendant pleaded guilty to violating a federal statute that prohibits the unauthorized display of military medals as part of a plea deal with the U.S. Attorney's Office.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips also ordered Burton to pay a $250 fine and barred him from owning any military uniforms, insignia or award.

One of Burton's classmates, a U.S. Navy commander, was suspicious and snapped a photograph of Burton, which shows him wearing 14 medals. The commander made an official inquiry regarding Burton's service and discovered he had never been in the Marines or any other branch of the Armed Forces, according to the FBI.

In the ensuing investigation, federal agents learned the defendant had an Internet blog on which he "bragged" about overseas tours of duty that involved combat in Afghanistan and Iraq and appeared at other events impersonating an officer.

"The defendant chose the rank of ... gunnery sergeant because it is a well-respected rank within the USMC," court documents state.

The documents indicate Burton purchased most of his decorations on eBay and at military surplus stores, including one outside the Marine Corps Air- Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms.

Burton was employed as an information technology specialist at a Palm Springs bank but was fired in January, according to his attorney, Michael DeFrank.

"No thanks to the media coverage, he lost his job," DeFrank told City News Service Friday.

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