After vet's arrest, senator proposes making 'stolen valor' a crime

Originally published in Times Union on .

A day after a Newburgh veteran was indicted on federal charges accusing her of doctoring her Army discharge records to make it appear she had received a Purple Heart and other accolades, a state senator proposed legislation that would criminalize false claims related to military service. 

State Sen. James Skoufis, an Orange County Democrat, introduced a bill that he said would make “stolen valor” a crime and also include penalties for someone who lies about their prior work as a first responder.

Skoufis also sent a letter to Randy Simons, a commissioner at the Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, urging the agency to implement additional verification measures to “safeguard the integrity” of the Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New Windsor, which the agency manages. Skoufis said that process should require applicants to sign an affidavit, under penalty of perjury, attesting to their award of a Purple Heart.

“Lying about one’s veteran status and receipt of military honors such as the Purple Heart is a disgraceful act,” Skoufis said. “It should also be a criminal act.”

The action by Skoufis came after Sharon Toney-Finch, who drew attention last year when she spread a false story about migrants displacing homeless veterans from a Hudson Valley hotel, was charged with four counts of fraud in a federal indictment Wednesday.

The Times Union first reported last year about the discrepancies in Toney-Finch’s military record, including her claim of having received a Purple Heart medal. The indictment accuses her of profiting from that false claim, including using the false accolades to help raise money for a nonprofit organization she runs.

James Smith, an assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office, said Toney-Finch “allegedly engaged in a series of lies in which she misappropriated donations for military charities and falsely nominated herself as a Purple Heart recipient to receive illicit disability benefits.”