How a murderer used Stolen Valor to spring himself from jail

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How a murderer used Stolen Valor to spring himself from jail

It started back in April with an article in the Augusta Chronicle, which Jonn Lilyea tagged at the time (and thus he gets the link).  As Jonn noted:

Last month, Charles Chavous pleaded guilty to the 1975 murder of Bronzi Leon Peppers. He was one of three men implicated in the murder and the last to be sentenced. One of the three died in a automobile accident before he could be brought to answer for the crime. Of course, Chavous told his lawyer, Scott Connell, and the court that it was his time in Vietnam that made him crazy. His lawyer told the court that Chavous was one of the most decorated Marines from that war.

From the Augusta Chronicle:

The guilt of not telling what he knew about a homicide was worse than war, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and POW escapee told a judge Thursday.

For the man who had saved so many lives during his tours of duty, Charles Chavous was tortured because he did not try to save Bronzi Leon Peppers on Feb. 3, 1975, said Chavous’ attorney, Scott Connell.


Chavous served in the Marines as a “tunnel rat,” one of the men who went alone into extensive systems of tunnels dug by the Viet Cong. He was wounded five times, Connell said. He was captured and held captive, but escaped and carried another prisoner out, too, his attorney said.

Chavous is one of the highest-decorated veterans of the Vietnam War, Connell told the court. His medals include two Bronze Stars and the Navy Cross, Connell said.

The night Peppers was killed, Chavous froze, Connell said. He has been overwhelmed with guilt ever since.

Jonn and I immediately contacted everyone we could, including his attorney.  This is what I wrote to the attorney:

I assume by now you've figured out your client is lying about his Marine Corps record.  Hoofah.  Most of his claims don't even make sense.  And the Marine Corps would laugh if you tried to ask about that biography.

As an attorney (IN Bar), I appreciate you representing someone.  But as an actual combat veteran of Afghanistan, I would encourage you to verify that weak sauce story.  I literally cannot properly convey how ludicrous his story is.

Esquire Connell was less than pleased with me for that email:

While I greatly appreciate your service to our Country, I do not appreciate your assumption that I failed to "verify" this story.  I have reviewed a number of documents which property to be from official government sources.  This includes a vast array of VA records and a DD214.  The documents certainly appear to be authentic in their appearance.  Given that his story/history was also verified to me by a number of family members and long time friends (many of which are veterans themselves) and others in a position to know at the VA, I simply had no reason to doubt the veracity of his story.  My job is not to embark upon a mission to disprove my client'sstory especially in the face of such evidence.

Now, before you all go hating on the attorney, I agree with him.  He's exactly right.  His job as an attorney is to do everything ethical in his power to get his client the best possible conclusion under the law.  You can tell from his response that he believed his client.  No doubting that.

 Either way, we get an update today:

Former Marine uses ‘bogus as hell’ service record; walks away free man

WASHINGTON — Former Marine Charles Allen Chavous was facing prison for his role in a decades-old murder.  His attorney portrayed him as a Vietnam War hero who deserved leniency, telling the court he was a POW who escaped captivity and was awarded numerous combat valor medals, including the prestigious Navy Cross.

When the judge handed down his sentence, Chavous, 63, walked away a free man.

But in a case of stolen valor, none of the claims turned out to be true.

The proceedings in Augusta, Ga., were first reported by The Augusta Chronicle. After Chronicle readers expressed skepticism about the alleged war record, Stars and Stripes tried to verify attorney Scott Connell’s unchallenged claims.

You should go read the whole thing when you can (CLICK THE TITLE OF THE ARTICLE ABOVE), but this is the paragraph that got me:

Stars and Stripes contacted the Marine Corps’ records department in Quantico, Va., and an official there who pulled Chavous’ service record confirmed that the DD-214 given to Connell is phony in many respects. The former Marine was never awarded the Navy Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Navy and Marine Corps Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, Navy Achievement Medal, Joint Service Commendation, Presidential Unit Citation, or Meritorious Unit Citation. He never completed Reconnaissance School, Jump School or Jungle Survival School. He never received a battlefield commission to 1st Lt., nor did he retire at the rank of Sgt., as the doctored DD-214 states. (He was discharged as a Lance Cpl.) According to the Marine Corps, Chavous did serve in Vietnam as a rifleman, but he only served one tour. The Marine Corps has no record of him being missing in action or a prisoner of war.

You don't say.....

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Forgive me if I am wrong; I am not sure how Stars and Stripes can obtain verification of service records without a court ordered subpoena, since I believe these are protected by the Privacy Act.

Sounds like time for an attorney general to get involved, to verify the authenticity of the documents and take care of business of initiating justice if required.

It's called "The Freedom of information Act" and "Stolen Valor Act." Anyone can use them.

You can get a copy of a service record, some information will be deleted if you do not specify that you are next of kin for about $60. I know, I've done it.

Under the freedom of information act, his attorney could have requested verification of his awards, MOS and rank from the military personnel files center in St. Louis. He could have done this without a court order.

I have done this myself on a couple people who lied about their service / awards.

I am in no way siding with this jack wagon murdering sob, however, I do find it disturbing and quite ironic that we have people here that up in arms over this guy lying, and i agree he's a POS.

People in this thread are saying they have gotten other peoples records from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. Which means they are liars too!

If you have in fact done this then you are guilty of falsifying a government document, government fraud, identity theft and violations of a persons privacy (and that's just what i can come up with off the top of my head, I'm sure there's more they could throw at you. These documents are not public domain and the freedom of information act does not apply.

There are nine exemptions to the FOIA, ranging from a withholding “specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy” and “trade secrets” to “clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”[6] The nine current exemptions to the FOIA address issues of sensitivity and personal rights. They are (as listed in Title 5 of the United States Code, section 552)

The 9 exemptions are as follows, check out #6 pertaining to Personnel and Medical records and personal privacy.

1- (A) specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy and (B) are in fact properly classified pursuant to such Executive order;[8]
2- related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency;[8]
3- specifically exempted from disclosure by statute (other than section 552b of this title), provided that such statute (A) requires that the matters be withheld from the public in such a manner as to leave no discretion on the issue, or (B) establishes particular criteria for withholding or refers to particular types of matters to be withheld;[8] FOIA Exemption 3 Statutes
4- trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential;[8]
5- inter-agency or intra-agency memorandum or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency;[8]
6- personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy;[8]
7- records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes, but only to the extent that the production of such law enforcement records or information (A) could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings, (B) would deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication, (C) could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, (D) could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source, including a State, local, or foreign agency or authority or any private institution which furnished information on a confidential basis, and, in the case of a record or information compiled by a criminal law enforcement authority in the course of a criminal investigation or by an agency conducting a lawful national security intelligence investigation, information furnished by a confidential source, (E) would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, or would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law, or (F) could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual;[8]
8- contained in or related to examination, operating, or condition reports prepared by, on behalf of, or for the use of an agency responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions;[8] or
9- geological and geophysical information and data, including maps, concerning wells.[8]

When requesting a DD-214, the very 1st question on the form gives you 2 options. You must select that you are the veteran or that you are the next of kin of the deceased veteran. When requesting a OMPF (Official Military Personnel File) the same restrictions apply, see below the rules for each.

The information below is unedited and directly from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis' website.

For requesting a DD-214:

Online Requests Using eVetRecs

Our online eVetRecs system creates a customized order form to request information from your, or your relative's, military personnel records.
You may use this system if you are:

A military veteran, or
Next of kin of a deceased, former member of the military. The next of kin can be any of the following:
Surviving spouse that has not remarried
For requesting an OMPF (Official Military Personnel File):

Who Can Request Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF)
Access depends on the discharge date:

OMPF Archival record - discharge date of 1952 or prior*

These records are archival and are open to the public.

Any archival OMPF can be ordered online for a copying fee.
See Access to Military Records by the General Public for more details.

OMPF Federal (non-archival) record - discharge date of 1952 or after*

These records are non-archival and are maintained under the Federal Records Center program. Non-archival records are subject to access restrictions.

The military veteran, or the next-of-kin (un-remarried widow or widower, son, daughter, father, mother, brother or sister)

Use the link at the top of this page to get started using eVetRecs or Standard Form 180 (SF 180).

If anyone needs to fill out a form SF 180, I found a blank form here This site PDFfiller also has some tutorials on how to fill it out and a few related forms that you might find useful.

Thanks Paul for sharing the link. I used several forms and I find it very easy to fill out the forms.

Hi Paul! Tried the link and it was a really great! I already said goodbye to pen and paper.Thanks for sharing.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.