By Jan Worth-Nelson
Beset with evidence contradicting his claims that he was a Congressional Medal of Honor winner from the Vietnam War, Flint Mayoral candidate David Meier stated in an email to East Village Magazine today that he has ended his political campaign.
“I went to city hall today to withdraw from the mayors race and was informed that it was too late,” he wrote. “I have decided to stop campaigning and doing interviews. I do not plan to participate or be involved in the process any longer.” He did not admit that his claims were false.
Meier’s claims, detailed in two EVM stories last week, drew the attention of the FBI after numerous calls and emails from veterans and contact with the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, an organization comprised of actual Medal of Honor recipients headquartered near Charleston, S.C. It maintains archives of service, communicates with recipients, and offers a range of services and supports.
FBI Special Agent Mike Sanborn in Washington contacted EVM on Friday and Monday to report an FBI investigation into Meier’s situation was underway but that he was not at liberty to offer details of the investigation. Asked if Meier’s claims were untrue, Sanborn said, “I think we know that — it’s a fact.”
Sanborn confirmed Meier has no record of military service. EVM has learned that Meier, 67, is divorced and lives alone in an apartment.
Sanborn’s area of expertise is in following up on cases of “stolen valor,” of which Meier’s claims are an example — when someone claims the heroic acts of another. Meier claimed that he had received a Medal of Honor from President Richard Nixon in 1973 based on actions in An Loc, Vietnam in May, 1969. That is the story not of Meier, but of James Leroy Bondsteel, originally of Jackson MI, who did receive the Medal of Honor. Bondsteel was killed in a freak traffic accident in Alaska in 1987.
“A lot of these medals were paid for by these veterans’ lives,” Sanborn said. “These guys are the best this country has ever produced. When you read their stories, you realize how much they’ve sacrificed. The thing is, when you know them, they’re the most humble guys you could ever meet.”
Sanborn said regardless of the circumstances surrounding a person’s false claims, “It’s despicable.”
A Marine Corps veteran of Desert Storm and Somalia, Sanborn said Meier is just one of many cases of “stolen valor” he has investigated in 22 years in the FBI.
“We’re trying to protect the integrity of the medals and of the honor,” he said. “So many of our veterans went through so much,” he said, noting that especially Vietnam veterans experienced mistreatment not just in service but when they got home. In contrast, “most of these phonies never had the guts to serve,” he said.
“We’re doing our best to try to help the veterans get their pride back,” he said. “And then, something like this, it’s another slap in the face.”
He said Meier’s case reminded him of the case of Xavier Alvarez of Pomona,CA. In 2007, Alvarez ran — and was elected to — a water board and claimed falsely that he was a Congressional Medal of Honor winner. In United States v. Alvarez,after a conviction under the Stolen Valor Act and appeal, the Supreme Court decided that his falsehood was “free speech protected” under the First Amendment. The court basically said that lying about receiving military honors was “contemptible but constitutional” according to one government summary of the matter.
Sanborn noted that up to 700 unauthorized copies of the medal, the nation’s highest combat honor, were issued in the 1990s by H.L.I. Lordship Industries, which had been the nation’s primary maker of military decoration. The company’s contracts with the Pentagon were abruptly terminated and the company fined after officials discovered they were reproducing the medals and selling them for profit.
That scandal created a nightmare for the Pentagon and the FBI, which began a sweep to obtain the unauthorized medals from gun shows, at auctions, at estate sales and from many private individuals. Sanborn said he just recovered two last week. He said he’s found them in the chambers of a federal judge and a sheriff, among many other places.
As of Oct. 23, there are 73 living Congressional Medal of Honor recipients in the country. Three are in Michigan: Charles Kettles of Ypsilanti and James McCloughan of South Haven, both Vietnam veterans; and Robert Simanek of Farmington Hills, a Korean War veteran.
As indicated in many sources, online and otherwise, selling a Medal of Honor is illegal under federal law, and punishable by a fine of $100,000 and up to a year in jail. It is also illegal to wear the medal as if it is one’s own.
Meier’s departure from the campaign still leaves 17 mayoral candidates, including Mayor Karen Weaver. A second candidate forum is scheduled for tomorrow night at 5 p.m. at the Flint Public Library. The election has been necessitated by a recall action against the mayor. If she wins the most votes, the recall will have failed and she will continue in office. If she does not win the most votes, the candidate who does will be the next mayor, as soon as the election is certified.
EVM editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at email@example.com.