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Thursday, June 9, 2005 10:59 am

A federal offense

A Colorado congressman plans to introduce a bill making it a federal crime to fraudulently claim to have earned certain military medals.

Sponsored by John T. Salazar, a Democrat and a veteran, the bill would extend penalties now applicable only to fraudulent Medal of Honor cases to people who falsely claim a second tier of military honors, including the Distinguished Service Cross, the Air Force Cross, and the Navy Cross. The bill also would apply in cases in which a person falsely claimed to have earned a Purple Heart, the medal given to soldiers wounded or killed in combat.

Titled the “Stolen Valor Act of 2005,” the bill says that anyone convicted of wearing or displaying, manufacturing, or selling medals not rightfully earned could be fined $10,000, imprisoned for as long as six months, or both.

If adopted by Congress, such a law could apply to former University of Illinois at Springfield professor Joe Wilkins, a prominent powerbroker in city politics who chaired Mayor Tim Davlin’s transition committee.

For years, Wilkins, an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam, claimed to have two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star, the decoration just below the Air Force Cross. But an Illinois Times investigation revealed that military records could not confirm those claims [Dusty Rhodes, “Precious medals,” March 31]. Records filed by Wilkins with the state of Illinois to support his claims included the signatures of two USAF veterans who said they did not sign the papers and described the documents as forgeries.

Through his attorney, Wilkins has declined to answer questions from this paper, but in April he told other media outlets that he legitimately received the medals and that he is searching for supporting records.

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