A Marine veteran accused of stolen valor is said to have stolen more than $344,000 in military disability benefits and filed a Purple Heart claim for injuries he sustained in a roadside bombing that never happened.
Paul John “PJ” Herbert, 52, of Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, was indicted by a federal grand jury and arrested Friday morning on charges of stealing office and false testimony. according to the Ministry of Justice.
Herbert allegedly stole more than $344,000 in veteran disability benefits “to be used to support veterans in need” from January 1, 2010 to March 11, 2023, while “falsely impersonating a distinguished war hero” who was on duty was injured.
Herbert served on active duty in the Marines from 1989 to 1993 and in the reserves from 1993 to 1995.
Herbert also filed a Purple Heart application with his local congressman in October 2018, claiming he suffered a traumatic brain injury from an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) during a deployment in Iraq after the end of the Gulf War.
“Not only did he steal tens of thousands of dollars in disability benefits intended to be used to help veterans in need, but he falsely claimed to have suffered traumatic brain injury while on deployment in order to receive a Purple Heart,” I said doesn’t deserve it,” said US Attorney Joshua S. Levy.
“Robbing from our country’s veterans or claiming bravery where none exists is an insult to the honorable military personnel who make sacrifices for our safety,” Levy added.
Herbert’s false claims were first brought to light last August after he had to apologize to his fellow veterans for embellishing his military service and receiving medals and money he didn’t deserve, according to Greenfield Record reported.
“I just needed to feel important. I started to feel important and good, and I didn’t know how to get out,” Herbert told the outlet in 2022.
“I know I hurt a lot of people who trusted me and cared about me and everything else.”
Upper Pioneer Valley Veterans’ Services began investigating a report into Herbert’s false claims in the fall of 2021, according to the outlet.
The service was first alerted to Herbert’s fraudulent claims after the organization’s deputy director, Christopher Demars, attended an event where the alleged stolen veteran spoke to veterans about his time in Iraq.
Herbert claimed to have survived a deadly IED attack in northern Iraq while conducting military operations with Britain’s Royal Marines in defense of fleeing Kurdish refugees following the end of the Gulf War.
He claimed British soldiers were killed in the attack.
“USBV first existed in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Demars said.
Herbert later informed the outlet that there had been no IED explosion and no Royal Marines had been killed.
Herbert’s account of the attack was also not documented in his DD214 (a discharge or discharge document given to service members upon retirement), Demars said.
Herbert admitted using an experience Demars privately shared with him about being badly wounded in Afghanistan, which the alleged con artist referred to as his own during an interview with the Daily Hampshire Gazette in 2017, the outlet reported.
Demars — a 27-year U.S. Army veteran who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and was awarded two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star of Valor — told Herbert about the time he regained consciousness when he heard how the propellers of a medical helicopter got to him after his injury.
“I have told him [expletive] story and him [expletive] used it”, Demars said last year to the outlet.
After being caught in a lie, Herbert was left with no choice but to face up to his actions.
“I know I hurt Chris a lot,” Herbert told the outlet. “I sincerely apologized to him.”
If found guilty, Herbert faces up to five years in prison for making the false Purple Heart allegation and 10 years in prison for stealing from the US government, according to the Justice Department.
Both charges include “a fine of $250,000 or double gross profit or loss, whichever is greater.”