Former stolen valor arrestee Rick Strandlof has been many people in his life...two of whom were completely fabricated. But he has never been formally charged with profiting from his personalities -- nor is he the only person to have spun tall tales to change his life. Click through for stories from Strandlof and four other fakers who made headlines when they were found out. 5. Timothy Oliver Right before Independence Day, Oliver told the Durango Herald about his extensive military service -- which hawk-eyed readers immediately saw through (and commented on).
"Timothy Oliver, a Georgia boy by birth, spent years with the Special Forces in Afghanistan hunting bad guys in hideouts in the night," the article reads. "He says he sees the faces of the men he hunted, the villagers he found massacred and mutilated by jihadists and the friends he lost. He takes large quantities of Valium but does not sleep. Still, he says he would not take back the five years, three months and 34 days he spent in the military."
But when asked, after claims of inaccuracy arose, to provide his DD214 (the paper that comes with release from the military), Oliver refused and told the Herald it could print a retraction. In the end, the Herald couldn't track down any paperwork that would back up Oliver's story and instead published a follow-up piece under the headline "Stolen Valor?"
While Oliver's story might have as many holes as Swiss cheese, he didn't lie to the Herald about winning any military awards, so he's free from prosecution on that count should any Stolen Valor Act replacements arise.
Click through to keep counting down the five biggest fakers in recent Colorado history. 4. Michael Maher In June, Michael Maher allegedly stole $2,400 worth of equipment -- including two Pulaski firefighting tools, a portable radio, a portable fire shelter, goggles and ready-to-eat meals -- while impersonating a firefighter during the catastrophic High Park Fire. When police officers searched the fauxfighter's home, they uncovered even more stolen items, Westword reported: "Nomex pants and shirts, miscellaneous U.S. Forest Service outfits, a USFS qualification card and the sort of red-and-blue bubble-light rig capable of making his ride seem like an emergency vehicle."
A quick look into Maher's background shows a criminal record featuring charges of sexual assault on a child and disorderly conduct in addition to an arrest for driving under the influence. Investigators also have reason to believe he faked his way into the Lower North Fork Fire in March.
Marijuana Deals Near You
Click through to keep counting down the five biggest fakers in recent Colorado history. 3. Kevin Grimsinger During Sensible Colorado's campaign to get the state health department to add post traumatic stress disorder to the list of medical issues treatable by marijuana, one man's sad story cut through the debate. Supporters mentioned Afghanistan veteran Kevin Grimsinger in their efforts, saying his injuries from a land mine and the comfort medical marijuana provided influenced their petition to the department.
"He receives relief from medical marijuana, and we don't want him to be criminalized for doing so," Sensible Colorado Executive Director Brian Vicente said.
But Grimsinger wasn't who they thought he was. In a column on the subject, the Denver Post's Susan Greene originally uncovered the truth. Although Grimsinger claimed to be a special forces vet whose legs had been blown off in Afghanistan, he never served in the country and certainly never encountered a land mine. In fact, he had left the U.S. military ten years before the fictionalized incident. Instead, he sustained the injuries in a California car crash that left him paralyzed.
See Also: • "Medical marijuana: Will Kevin Grimsinger's false stories hurt MMJ campaign for PTSD?" • "Medical marijuana's rejection by health dept. for PTSD treatment could lead to lawsuit for hearing"
Click through to keep counting down the five biggest fakers in recent Colorado history. 2. Rick Strandlof Rick Strandlof is an outgoing, intelligent 35-year-old college student with a well-known local history. He first came to the public eye in 2009 as Rick Duncan, a gay Marine Corps veteran who had survived Don't Ask, Don't Tell, two knee replacements and a traumatic brain injury during his three tours in Iraq. For his valor, he won the Purple Heart and the Silver Star. But that turned out to be stolen valor, and when board members at his nonprofit, the Colorado Veterans Alliance, grew suspicious, they reported him to the FBI.
In federal district court, Strandlof was charged with violating the 2006 Stolen Valor Act, which the Supreme Court of the United States later dismissed. And as he waited across years for the final ruling, he transformed himself again. Last year, Strandlof's friends knew him as Rick Gold, a conservative Jewish lawyer with citizenship in both Israel and the U.S. Thanks to his combined passports, Gold served in the U.S. Marine Corps and the Israeli Defense Forces -- at least until his friends recognized him as Strandlof and cut ties. For more information, read our feature, "Will the real Rick Strandlof please stand up?"
See Also: • "Mark Udall among lawmakers pushing for Stolen Valor replacement, easy detection websites" • Stolen Valor was born in Colorado before dying with the Supreme Court" • "Rick Strandlof: The paper trail behind Colorado's biggest stolen valor case"
Click through to keep counting down the five biggest fakers in recent Colorado history. 1. Tausha Marsh A few years ago, this plea for support caught several eyes online -- to the tune of $30,000 in donations:
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Tausha Marsh, 28, has been fighting bone cancer for four years and has been recently diagnosed with cervical cancer. Doctors in the U.S. have not given her a positive outlook, however she has been accepted as a patient by a cancer specialist in Amsterdam. This doctor specializes in alternative cancer treatments. She will be moving to the clinic early July 2008 and anticipates staying for 1 year for treatments.
Cancer treatments are very expensive, and her doctor here in the U.S. estimates she will need $300,000 to cover treatments in Europe and to pay off her past medical bills. She needs all the support that she can get: thoughts, prayers and monetary donations are greatly appreciated.
But Marsh's story didn't check out: In 2009, the then-thirty year old pled guilty to faking cancer and profiting from the lie. A judge in La Plata County District Court sentenced the athlete and model to 36 days in jail with four years of probation, and she was ordered to attend weekly counseling sessions. More importantly, however, the terms included 3,000 hours of community service, letters of apology to each person she duped and a $9,000 donation to the American Cancer Society.
Also Read: • "If Tausha Marsh did fake cancer, here's hoping she invested her profits with the Mormon Madoff" • "Tausha Marsh pleads guilty to faking cancer -- but web pages asking for donations are still online" • "Tausha Marsh, cancer faker: MySpace donation page still online even as she heads to jail"
More from our Politics archive: "Stolen Valor was born in Colorado before dying with the Supreme Court."