Valor vi­o­la­tion and its vic­tim

10-year Ma­rine heard boasts as cor­po­rate host

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY JIM MCELHATTON

On a tour bus trip to South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Edi­son’s Big Creek power plant, event plan­ner Melissa Camp­bell was pass­ing out snacks to dig­ni­taries when one of them asked her a ques­tion that would change both of their lives and make U.S. ju­di­cial his­tory.

“Do you know who I am?” asked Xavier Al­varez, an elected mem­ber of a lo­cal water board, not wait­ing for an an­swer.

“I am a Con­gres­sional Medal of Honor re­cip­i­ent.”

Nearly five years later, Mr. Al­varez, who never served in the mil­i­tary, stands among dozens who have been con­victed un­der the fed­eral Stolen Valor Act, a misdemeanor crime that car­ries a sen­tence of up to one year of im­pris­on­ment for ly­ing about re­ceiv­ing mil­i­tary honors. Af­ter Mr. Al­varez’s ap­peal, his widely pub­li­cized case re­cently went be­fore the

U.S. Supreme Court.

Less at­ten­tion has been paid to the fate of the woman who helped ex­pose Mr. Al­varez and who brought him to the at­ten­tion of the FBI. Ms. Camp­bell, the event plan­ner serv­ing Mr. Al­varez snacks on June 27, 2007, was a U.S. Ma­rine Corps veteran who served her coun­try for 10 years.

But af­ter ex­pos­ing Mr. Al­varez’s medal claim as a hoax — later re­port­ing to the FBI what she viewed as a crime in progress — Ms. Camp­bell said she wasn’t thanked by her em­ployer. In­stead, she said, she was fired a month later.

“I was told it was un­pro­fes­sional to con­front him,” she told The Washington Times in a re­cent in­ter­view. The com­pany did not respond to in­quiries about her de­par­ture, cit­ing a pol­icy of not com­ment­ing on per­son­nel mat­ters. Mr. Al­varez de­clined through an at­tor­ney to com­ment.

Ms. Camp­bell now works as a fam­ily readi­ness of­fi­cer for the mil­i­tary. She has po­litely de­clined the of­fers from a pa­rade of lawyers in­quir­ing whether she would like to file a law­suit against her for­mer em­ployer. She told them she was not in­ter­ested. While she still wants her name cleared, she said, she doesn’t want to spend any more time think­ing about Mr. Al­varez.

In­deed, when she was in­vited by fed­eral prose­cu­tors to at­tend Mr. Al­varez’s crim­i­nal sen­tenc­ing, Ms. Camp­bell de­clined. Nor did she have any de­sire to at­tend the Supreme Court hear­ing last month.

Still, given re­newed at­ten­tion to the case, Ms. Camp­bell agreed to speak about how Mr. Al­varez’s sto­ries of brave hero­ism un­rav­eled, set­ting off an un­fore­seen chain of events that would lead 3,000 miles away to the na­tion’s high­est court.

First sus­pi­cions

Ms. Camp­bell said she joined the util­ity com­pany as a se­cu­rity of­fi­cer and later worked on the cor­po­rate events staff. She said she re­ceived only good em­ployee re­views and even won one of the com­pany’s high­est em­ployee awards.

As a plan­ner in the events depart­ment, she helped set up meet­ings and off-site events, in­clud­ing tours for lo­cal politi­cians and dig­ni­taries at the com­pany’s Big Creek Hy­dro­elec­tric Sys­tem plant lo­cated in Cal­i­for­nia’s Sierra Ne­vada moun­tains. The com­pany would give two- or three-day tours of the plant to lo­cal of­fi­cials, she said.

There were din­ners and cock­tails, as well as talks from spe­cial­ists on is­sues im­por­tant to the com­pany, she said. Ms. Camp­bell said she had been on plenty of trips. Her job was to co­or­di­nate tours and over­see trans­porta­tion and the guests.

Be­fore board­ing the bus to Big Creek, Ms. Camp­bell said she and Mr. Al­varez made small talk about both hav­ing been in the Ma­rine Corps. He said he spent about 25 years in re­con­nais­sance, she said, re­call­ing the first hint of some­thing amiss. She said she had never heard of any­one in re­con­nais­sance for such a long time. Still, she said, she quickly put any doubt out of her mind and went about do­ing her job.

But hours later on the bus to Big Creek, Mr. Al­varez made the stun­ning state­ment that he had won the Con­gres­sional Medal of Honor, Ms. Camp­bell said.

“I about dropped the snacks all over the place,” she said. “I’d much rather meet a CMH win­ner than any rock star. So I said, ‘I can’t even speak right now. I’m in awe of you. Any­thing you need, let me know.’ ”

But a few text mes­sages and a quick check of a web­site with in­for­ma­tion on the fewer than 100 liv­ing Con­gres­sional Medal of Honor win­ners made clear, just min­utes later, that the list did not in­clude any­one by the name Xavier Al­varez.

“This is a big deal,” she re­called, con­fid­ing to a co-worker. “This is like against the law.”

A stand­ing ova­tion

Once at Big Creek, Ms. Camp­bell said, Mr. Al­varez’s mil­i­tary ser­vice drew praise from other at­ten­dees.

Dur­ing a din­ner, a mem­ber of the public-af­fairs staff got up and asked how many peo­ple had served in the mil­i­tary, Ms. Camp­bell said. While about half of the peo­ple raised their hands, she said, the woman told the at­ten­dees about a “very spe­cial guest” and de­scribed how Mr. Al­varez had re­ceived a Sil­ver Star.

“They gave him a stand­ing ova­tion,” she said.

Af­ter din­ner, she said, a co-worker be­gan pep­per­ing Mr. Al­varez with ques­tions, in­clud­ing which pres­i­dent had awarded him the Con­gres­sional Medal of Honor. Mr. Al­varez said it was Pres­i­dent Rea­gan.

“Al­varez ad­vised that he was in Iran and was on a mis­sion to res­cue the U.S. am­bas­sador,” FBI agents later wrote in an af­fi­davit de­scrib­ing their in­ter­view with Ms. Camp­bell days later. “Dur­ing the raid, Al­varez was wounded sev­eral times, but re­turned to the U.S. Em­bassy to re­trieve the U.S. flag that was fly­ing.”

To Ms. Camp­bell, the story sounded an aw­ful lot like the plot from the movie “Rules of En­gage­ment,” star­ring Sa­muel L. Jack­son, whose char­ac­ter res­cues the flag from the em­bassy — though the movie-ver­sion em­bassy was in Ye­men, not Iran, as told by Mr. Al­varez.

It wasn’t the only hard-to-be­lieve story she re­called hear­ing. An­other time, she said, Mr. Al­varez said he wasn’t get­ting on any he­li­copters on the tour be­cause he had been in two other Edi­son he­li­copter crashes. Ms. Camp­bell said she knew that wasn’t true, ei­ther.

Fi­nally, upon over­hear­ing Mr. Al­varez boast of his many killings while in the mil­i­tary, in­clud­ing some in­volv­ing chil­dren, Ms. Camp­bell said, she couldn’t help but in­ter­rupt.

“He’s speak­ing for my Ma­rine Corps,” she re­called think­ing.

At first, she said, she asked him from which base he re­tired. She said Mr. Al­varez said that he had re­tired from Camp Pendle­ton as “Delta,” or Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Delta Force. To Ms. Camp­bell, the an­swer didn’t make sense.

She asked again in a dif­fer­ent way, not­ing that as sergeant ma­jor in the Ma­rine Corps, his re­tire­ment would have been a big deal.

That’s when Mr. Al­varez wouldn’t an­swer any more of her ques­tions, she said.

“He looked at me and he said, ‘Ms. Camp­bell, I know what you’re do­ing, and I don’t like it,’ ” she said.

With a hand­ful of peo­ple in the room, she re­sponded be­fore walk­ing out of the room.

“Mr. Al­varez,” she re­called say­ing, “I know what you’re do­ing, and I don’t like it.”

Still, she said, she treated Mr. Al­varez pro­fes­sion­ally on the rest of the trip. But long af­ter the trip, she said, she called the FBI. Agents later work­ing on the case sep­a­rately be­came aware of an­other state­ment by Mr. Al­varez de­scrib­ing his Con­gres­sional Medal of Honor at a water board meet­ing in Pomona, Calif. — a state­ment that formed the ba­sis of the crim­i­nal charge against him.

“I’m a re­tired Ma­rine of 25 years,” he said when in­tro­duced as the new­est mem­ber of the board about a month later. “I just re­tired in 2001. Back in 1987, I was awarded the Con­gres­sional Medal.”

Mr. Al­varez ul­ti­mately was con­victed and sen­tenced to pro­ba­tion and com­mu­nity ser­vice. In a sen­tenc­ing let­ter, he wrote, “I’m so re­morse­ful and em­bar­rassed of my mis­con­duct.”

Mr. Al­varez’s public de­fender, Bri­anna Fuller, wrote in a sen­tenc­ing memo that Mr. Al­varez’s lie at the water board “was not a lie that caused phys­i­cal, fi­nan­cial or other tan­gi­ble harm to any per­son, but it was surely of­fen­sive to mil­i­tary per­son­nel.”

By the time the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Mr. Al­varez was un­der way, Ms. Camp­bell had other con­cerns. Days af­ter the trip to Big Creek, she said, she was sus­pended by the com­pany and told that it was un­pro­fes­sional to con­front Mr. Al­varez.

One su­per­vi­sor said, “I don’t un­der­stand why you made such a big deal. You’re not even a Ma­rine any­more,” Ms. Camp­bell re­called.

“Do you un­der­stand what they do to earn their awards?” Ms. Camp­bell replied.

Sus­pended from her job, Ms. Camp­bell said she later got a phone call from the com­pany ask­ing her to at­tend a meet­ing. When she walked into the of­fice, she said, she saw boxes full of her be­long­ings.

It was of­fi­cial, she said — she’d been fired.

WHISTLE­BLOWER: “He’s speak­ing for my Ma­rine Corps,” Melissa Camp­bell re­calls think­ing about a man claim­ing to be a re­cip­i­ent of a pres­ti­gious medal.

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