Fake war hero sentenced to year in prison
TAMPA He claimed he was a war hero injured in Iraq and bilked the Veterans Administration for thousands of dollars in medical care. He even persuaded the organization Vacations for Veterans to give him a free trip to Hawaii. But the truth, federal prosecutors said, is that Danny Crane served less than three months in the Army and never fought on the front lines. At his sentencing hearing Thursday, Crane said he was remorseful for the web of lies he spun. “I’d like to apologize for my actions in this case,” Crane, 32, said. “It’s very embarrassing.”Crane pleaded guilty in November to federal charges of theft of government money and making a false statement. U.S. District Judge Virginia Hernandez Covington said if Crane’s lies about his military service were his first offense, she could have been more lenient, ordering him to spend part of his sentence in a halfway house and receive mental health counseling. But the Riverview man has a criminal record of fraud and identity theft dating back to 1999, the judge said. Covington then sentenced Crane to one year and a day in prison and three years probation. He also was ordered to pay back $7,042 to the VA, $2,093 to the veterans’ organization that gave him the trip to Hawaii and $200 in court costs. During his probation, Crane also must participate in drug abuse and mental health counseling programs. “The crime that bothers me the most here is taking money from Vacations for Veterans,” Covington said. “That’s a vacation somebody else didn’t get.” Before the ruling, Crane’s attorney had asked the judge to consider ordering his client to serve time in a halfway house instead of prison. Staying at a halfway house would allow Crane to get a job and start paying back the veterans’ groups, defense attorney Alec Hall said. “In this situation here, Mr. Crane wants to make it right,” Hall said. Covington said Crane served only short stints of jail time for his past crimes and that sending him to prison is the punishment and wakeup call he deserves. “To take a vacation away from someone who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, that’s pretty low,” Covington said. “I felt this has to be a sentence of significance.” Crane portrayed himself as “the most decorated veteran in Florida,” U.S. Assistant Attorney Amanda Kaiser said. Crane had falsely said he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, two Purple Hearts, an Air Medal and other war-related awards. He told local veterans’ groups that “he was blind in one eye, had 24 metal plates in his face, took a bullet in his back and has post-traumatic stress disorder,” Kaiser said. He bilked the VA for $7,000 in medical costs, “taking away treatment time from legitimate veterans,” then told Vacation for Veterans he had cancer and was given the trip to Hawaii, Kaiser said. The prosecutor read aloud letters from veterans’ groups describing Crane as a con man with “fake bravado” whose “lack of honor was apparent.” Crane told the judge he no longer wanted to be deceitful. “It’s time to change my life,” he said. At the end of the hearing and at Hall’s request, Covington amended her orders to allow Crane to stay in a halfway house for six months following his release from prison. “It’s all my client needs to get him back to society,” Hall said.