Man accused of faking record as Marine combat veteran arrested in San Diego
A 32-year-old man accused of violating federal law by masquerading as a decorated Marine combat veteran from the Iraq war was arrested Friday in downtown San Diego.
Richard Strandlof, who used the name Rick Duncan, is charged in Colorado with violating the federal Stolen Valor Act. He was taken to the federal lockup in San Diego and faces an extradition hearing Tuesday.
For more than a year, Strandlof passed himself off as a Marine officer who received a Silver Star for bravery at the battle of Fallouja in 2004, according to a criminal complaint filed by the U.S. attorney's office in Denver.
He allegedly told reporters and veterans in Colorado that he was a Naval Academy graduate, had deployed three times to Iraq, and was wounded by a roadside bomb and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to an FBI affidavit. He also claimed to have been awarded a Purple Heart.
If convicted, Strandlof could face a year in prison and a $100,000 fine. Congress in 2005 passed the Stolen Valor Act after complaints from veterans about phonies masquerading as heroes and tarnishing the reputation of true heroes.
Confronted by FBI agents, Strandlof admitted that he had never served in the military, according to the FBI affidavit.
While posing as a former Marine captain, Strandlof gained attention as a passionate opponent of the Iraq war and an advocate for better care for wounded veterans. He formed a Colorado Springs-based organization called Colorado Veteran's Alliance.
His speeches reportedly brought tears to the eyes of audience members, particularly when he recalled losing four Marines under his command in Fallouja.
His fakery began to unravel when veterans noted that on official documents for the group he formed, his name was listed as Strandlof, not Duncan, according to the criminal charge filed by federal prosecutors. When he showed up at a veterans gathering without the medals he had allegedly received, suspicions deepened and the FBI began an investigation.
Strandlof is a suspect in a fraud scheme involving a grand prix race in Nevada, and was once convicted of car theft in that state.
After the charge against him was filed last week, FBI agents found that he had fled to San Diego. He was arrested without incident.
--Tony Perry in San Diego
Photo: Richard Strandlof, posing as Rick Duncan, giving a speech about the Iraq war and the needs of veterans. Credit: Associated Press