America’s Got Talent Fraud Draws Attention to Stolen Valor Act

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Tim Poe, a former Minnesota National Guardsman and Afghanistan War veteran knocked ‘em dead during his audition for America’s Got Talent, a well-known television talent show. The country crooner and guitar picker also tugged at America’s heartstrings with his story of how he got hit by an RPG while in Afghanistan, which caused him severe traumatic injuries (of course!), and caused him to stutter.

The problem: Almost all of it was a lie.

The only things that were true about his story were his status as a former Guardsman and his status as an Afghanistan veteran. Yes, he did show up in Afghanistan, briefly, but was medically evacuated due to a non-combat-related injury.

It was a military blog called This Ain’t Hell that first broke the story, with the help of the Public Affairs folks at the Minnesota National Guard. The Minnesota Army National Guard people couldn’t comment on the specifics of his medical treatment, but they did confirm that Poe was not, in fact, entitled to wear a Purple Heart. Which makes the rest of the story unravel like an ugly sweater.

Rather than immediately confess to the lie, though, Poe doubled down, specifically claiming to have received other awards to which he was not entitled, including the Combat Infantry Badge and Bronze Star Medal. He also gave America’s Got Talent producers a photograph he said was of him in Afghanistan – only to run into two more problems: The patch on the photographed soldier’s sleeve was a 10th Mountain Division patch. Poe was never assigned to the 10th Mountain Division, even in his lies. The second problem is that the soldier who was actually in the photograph was pretty ticked.

Since then, Poe appeared on camera issuing a tearful apology, but still denies lying.

Since this one played out even as Poe was on a national television talent show, it turned out to be the biggest entertainment industry fraud exposition since Oprah Winfrey got stung by the author of A Million Little Pieces. Maybe since Milli Vanilli.

Poe’s fraud isn’t a standalone or isolated case. In 2010, a lieutenant named Douglas Sofranko, while serving as a rear detachment commander and full-time administrative officer for the 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, Florida Army National Guard, was fraudulently wearing the Navy SEAL insignia on his Army uniform, and was exposed. (I have personal knowledge of this one, and met the soldier while he was wearing the insignia.)

Soon after the story broke, Sofranko resigned his commission and left the Guard “for the good of the service.”

Politicians and entertainers, too, have been implicated in veteran fakery. For example, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa falsely claimed to have spent a year flying in Viet Nam. He flew, yes, but only transport missions, and his record shows no Viet Nam service whatsoever. And actor Brian Dennehy also claimed to have served in Viet Nam in the Marine Corps. He was a marine, but was never in Viet Nam.

Learn more about the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 and then let us know what you think in the comments. Have you known anyone who falsely claimed entitlement to a medal or decoration? What do you think the punishment should be for making such claims?


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