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Impersonating a veteran local law goes to Erie County Executive for signature

Mike Desmond

Erie County is moving closer to a local law that would allow the arrest and punishment of someone who falsely claims to be former military who has received medals.

While it may seem surprising, for many years it was not against the law to pose as former military until Congress passed a law barring the practice, had it overturned in the courts and then passed a new law.

Erie County Legislator Edward Rath said the problem is that Washington does not enforce the law, so he wants the county to do so, as Suffolk County does.

"This is actually happening in the Town of Amherst," said Rath. "We have had people parading around as veterans when they're not and law enforcement was notified and there is no mechanism to bring them to justice. So that is one of the main thrusts of this local law, is to have a local law enforcement piece attached to it. We're not trying to do anything above and beyond the federal government. We're trying to augment and enhance what's happening at the federal level."

As local veterans watched, the Erie County Legislature unanimously passed the proposal Thursday and sent it to County Executive Mark Poloncarz for action. If he signs, it would take around 60 days to go into effect.

"People who are walking across our neighborhoods, on all four corners of Erie County, from time to time, holding themselves out to be wounded warriors and collecting money from unknowing residents, saying they are raising money for the wounded warrior effort, when, in fact, these despicable individuals are neither veterans nor are they giving the money to wounded warriors," said Rath. "This is the type of stuff that we are going to root out."

While fines start low, multiple offenses would lead to progressively heavier fines and, ultimately, to the possibility of prison time.

"The first offense is a $250 fine," said Rath. "The second offense is $500. Third offense is $1,000. After the third offense, potentially one year in jail."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.