Friday, May 15, 2009

How "Rick Duncan" could happen, and how we'll stop it from happening again.

Please consider this post as a stopgap. It will be periodically updated as much as I can, though I do have some really important things to do Army-side this weekend so will be mostly incommunicado. Comment moderation is going to be turned off so that you can all talk to each other at will-please don't make me regret it by posting pictures of my family or anything like that.

First: the story.

"Rick Duncan" is the alias of Richard Strandlof, a con artist who had a record of defrauding groups and organizations for money. He apparently defrauded business owners in Nevada out of $25,000, and as con artists don't just pop out of nowhere, it's likely that he's defrauded others as well.

"Rick Duncan" was known as an IVAW member. I met him once briefly-I don't recall any substantive conversation, but the Colorado Veterans Alliance rang a bell and I went through a lot of business cards I had around from my IVAW work, and there was his. I cerainly believed at the time that he was an IVAW member. Was he actually an IVAW member? That's a question that's a little harder to answer. Upon discovering his fraud, I called the National Office. There was no record of him on our rolls or in our paper files. However, he apparently had a member account on the website, and he was well known as an IVAW member to many. While he had no leadership role in the organization, he was apparently involved with projects. It raises the question of: what makes a member? We don't have cards. We have membership rolls and T-shirts, and the latter are freely available for purchase. I know that I don't ask members I meet at events to show me their DD214s.

How could this happen? Well, I'll freely admit that in many ways it was our fault, and the fact that VoteVets, Colorado Veterans Alliance, and multiple Congressmen were also taken in doesn't make it any better. It appears that "Rick Duncan" had adopted one of the critical rules of a con artist: if you appear to be legitimate, and act like you belong, others won't question it. He created a veterans organization, and then used his status as the head of that veterans organization to gain access to other veterans' group events. I honestly don't know what the guys in Colorado thought about him, and that's not my story to tell-but I can understand that if the man walked in with a record of being involved with veterans and an IVAW T-shirt on, he would not have been questioned.

I'll be honest-our national office has not always been a model of efficiency, especially when it comes to paperwork. We also did not have the amount of staffers perhaps necessary to handle the influx of members last year. With so many new member applications coming through, new member processing was slow. Member packets were slow on being sent out. My speculation is that "Duncan" used his skills at a con to exploit that weakness-building on frustration with national office paperwork issues, he may well have complained that they had 'lost' his paperwork. He may have approached this at a sidways angle-using a respected IVAW organizer in Colorado to call the national office and get his access to the website. Is it right? No. Is it understandable? Unfortunately, I can understand why human error happens. That doesn't mean we don't need to work at closing that issue.

Some have charged, mainly in the milblogosphere, that we should have known that "Duncan" was a liar because of his claims. It's something that's really easy to say after the fact, but I'll examine them.
Some claim that we should have known he was a fraud because he claimed to have a finger shot off, yet has ten fingers. Well, that might have been a good indicator in the Korean War, but at least as recently as the early eighties, we had the technology to reattach fingers. How do I know this? Because that's when my own mother lost her finger and subsequently had it reattached. She was trying to fix up a rundown house, my parents were trying to give me a life outside the city. She let a saw run over her finger, and her and my father had to put it on ice and drive like maniacs to the hospital. It's one reason why my family after that moved to the city and never looked back-because they didn't want to have to wonder if there would be enough time to get to a hospital again. My mother can proudly wiggle all ten fingers today, almost thirty years later, though apparently that finger feels cold more. And she didn't even have the benefit of awesome military medical facilities.

Openly gay commander? Well, that's a really hard one to say. I don't want to name names or get hit by random people for potential slander, but I will say that at a certain time in my army career, we believed our commander was gay. There was major circumstantial evidence, and at least one individual confessed to being their partner in front of individuals from my unit. We thought that commander was an idiot, but it had nothing to do with the gay thing, but more to do with pure incompetence. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that "everyone could know" someone was gay, and like them anyway. One of my platoon sergeants didn't tell people he was gay, but he had a rainbow bumper sticker, a rainbow ring, and he had his farewell at a gay club. Nobody really cared.


A lot of people, both members and nonmembers, are asking why IVAW hasn't come out with a statement yet. The reasons for this are twofold. One is that Alex Bacon, the person who would need to authorize such a thing, is currently involved in a personal situation. I am not going to talk about this situation, as it is his private life. However, I would ask those of you who have stated that you do trust and respect me to accept that I am giving you my word of honor that I know the situation, and am staking my own honor on the fact that he has a legitimate personal circumstance. The second is that we're trying to ascertain all the facts before putting out a formal statement. In my own post, it's clear that I don't have some answers. IVAW's statement should have a full explanation of exactly how this happened, not speculation. And I personally believe it should also have a good explanation of how we'll stop it in future.

Some idea I personally have-and I encourage others and IVAW members to weigh in:
1) Produce memership cards that could be shown to other members, membership cards to be produced only by the national office, and numbers on membership cards being referenced whenever a request goes to the national office. (For example: I wouldn't say "It's Selena, I need this." I would say, "It's Selena, Member # 13538, I need this.")
2) Require proof of service at the chapter level as well, to provide a double failsafe.
3) Adopt a bylaw change that allows any member to challenge any other member's membership, much like the VFW has. Membership could be verifiable by the national records stuff, active duty members to be verified by other active duty members through tools like AKO, etc.

I'm curious as to other ideas folks have. Again, this post is rough and unpolished and will be edited as new information comes in or as I have more time to spend. I just felt it was important to get it up ASAP.

I also welcome all IVAW members to call me about this-my phone number is available in the members area of the website. Everyone else is welcome to email me personally at armysergeant@ivaw.org

20 comments:

TSO said...

Um, what kind of precision accuracy shooting are we talking about that shoots a dudes finger off and leaves it in good enough shape to reattach.

The plate in his head left no scar, how was it put in there?

How many 03 Battalion commanders are there in the Marine Corps?

How many openly gay Battalion commanders are there in the Marine Corps.

How did he come to WSI with no DD214 when you had to see mine? You also knew that *I* worked for a veterans organization and yet you required it.

I don't blame you personally, but this happy bunny unicorn land explanation is beneath you bud.

Army Sergeant said...

TSO:

These are things that when you think about and seriously ponder, you could have questions about. I don't know what kind of medical advances we have. If I had been told about it I might have wondered, but I wouldn't have been sure enough to risk being the asshole that challenged a legitimate medical condition/wound.

As for 03 Battalion commanders in the Marine Corps, I really have no idea. I know that it wouldn't happen in the Army, but the Marines are smaller. It wouldn't occur to me to say I knew one way or another. I'm just speaking for self here.

As for how he came to WS without a DD214, I honestly don't know. That's one of the questions I'll be asking, you can bet, and one of the questions I think we need to have the answers to. As to why I asked for DD214s even for "Established" veterans, well, what can I say except that I'm a thorough cuss for people I'm actually responsible for.

You may not blame me personally, but I do accept personal responsibility, as a leader in the organization. And so it's my job to figure out what happened and fix it.

Davy said...

Do you mean 03 as in Infantry MOS or 03 as in Captain, Ive seen Captains in the Marines in platoon leader positions to Company Commander but Battalion Commander seems a bit much for the Marine Corps (then again I was in Security Forces Battalion which is a bit different), in the Army for a rear detachment unit its not uncommon.

The finger thing is believable, I know a few guys who have had that happen and the scars are hardly visible.

Openly gay BC in the Marine Corps seems out there though, maybe in the Army but it doesnt seem like something that would happen in the Corps. Its just alot different than the Army.

Membership cards: seems like a good idea but we have to remember that there are all sorts of vets that help out but are not members of national IVAW, we have a guy like that in our chapter who got out a few months before 9-11, but we checked his DD 214 and records. I think the membership number thing is ok but a top down solution isnt always the answer.

Selena you know I support checking proof of service at the local level.


We dont need a bylaw (which is basically national giving independent chapter permission, were not kids) we just need to do check proofs of service and challenge people who seem sketchy, anyone can come question me about my legitimacy as a vet of 8 years in service and anything Ive said about my experience can be backed up, if someone is telling the truth they should have nothing to hide, its not going to hurt any real vets feelings (and active duty people like Selena have too much proof, lol)
Carl Davison

Army Sergeant said...

Carl,

I know what you mean about top down, but I think (granted this is all preliminary) that actually it is the fear of top-down national office stuff that allowed this guy to thrive...obviously I totally support what you guys are doing in checking DD214s at the local level as well, you guys are leading the way seriously and I totally applaud you.

I think maybe the best solution is top down AND bottom up. This way you're guaranteed to catch everyone. For example bottom up only works when you're a good solid chapter-but national down is great for smaller more individual members.

Anyway, we can fix this, for sure.

And man, you are too damn right I have too much proof. Anyone want a few boxes of military records? :)

CI-Roller Dude said...

I've gotten really good at outing fake Vets over the years. I've been a civilain cop for over 30 years--it used to just be the "homeless vet, please help" who were usually lying. It was a great scam.
In later years, I've actually come across fakes claiming to have PTSD, etc from "wars" so they could gain many etc from assistance groups.
Things to ask (but don't make it sound like an interrogation--make it like a conversation of interest)
1.) What was your MOS?
2.) What unit were you in?
3.) Where'd you serve?
4.) When did you serve?
5.) What type of discharge did you get, or, what's your DD214 say?

Most fakes claim to have been some type of special forces, claim some type of injury that makes no sense.
If any story changes, they are lying. Changes in duties, MOS, injuries, etc are signs of lying. Most fakes can't remember what they just told you when it's a lie.

Any true vet shouldn't mind being "vetted" to gain entry into a group etc.
How about the friggen VA treating lots of non-vets at the cost of millions of dollars when a real vet has to wait months to get an appointment at a VA Hospital.
I'm against the IZ war, but I did my duty when called. I am a real live OIF vet. But I didn't do anything too exciting.

Jen said...

This is just stupid. I met Duncan at WS but he was a bit evasive at questions, basically saying he didn't want to talk about it. Its hard knowing where to draw the line, you don't want to retraumatize a real vet because asswipes like this play want to play games.

National abso- f-ing-lutely needs to squash any members who don't want to prove their qualifications.

This is just embarrassing. What a turd.

Anonymous said...

Sooooo Sorry to everyone and most of all to the legit Vets. I am related to this moron and have seen the carnage he's left in his wake for the last 15 years. Suffice it to say the CVA wasn't the first but hopefully will be the last. I'm a Navy Veteran and spent lots of time the Persian Gulf and Red sea in support of the Storm/Shield. As a veteran, I'm personally offended. I hope they lock this fruitcake up for a long time. He's hurt many people in many areas. Again, sorry.

Julia said...

This type of scam is certainly not new. Now that you have a generalized course of action it won't happen again. May I suggest in addition to your plan that all new members submit their records or fill in the DA-180 form?

I'm referring to the instructions on this site:

http://www.stolenvalor.com/foia.htm

I was burned sorely by someone posing as a decorated Vietnam veteran who had been involved in covert operations. He never served a single day in the military and to this day presents himself as a Medal of Honor recipient.

Brad said...

As someone who did know Rick personally, perhaps I can clear some stuff up as to how this was "allowed" to happen.

Rick, to my knowledge, never claimed to be a Battalion Commander or a Commander at all. He claimed to have been a Captain in a Marine Corps Logistics Company. Just like the Army- Captains dont have to have Commander slots.

He didn't claim in person, nor have I ever read, that his finger was "shot" off.. his claim was that it was severed in the IED blast and reattached.

Plate in his head- he did have a scar, but he also had hair... there was no "monkeys picking for lice" action going on.

The way he acted- Combat Vets with PTSD know you just don't go asking specific details. If someone doesnt give specifics, you just take them at their word. Same reason Combat Vets dont generally say " How many people did you kill?". Its just not done.

Fact checking at a local level should absolutely be done. Often Vets are legit but in the wake of everything pump up their experiences to untrue proportions. Even that can hurt credibility.

I will say that for all the bad Rick Strandlof did, he did some amazing work in Colorado Springs. Before he was exposed, I acted as his representative at one of the meetings with the city regarding Civil Liberties/Rights Violations of the Homeless Camp Clean Ups. The Deputy Chief of Police was visibly shaken at my presence because he knew that Mr. Strandlof (Duncan), had them by the short hairs.

How did this happen? Who knows. I know that Mr. Strandlof was heavily active in local Marine Corps circles, often hosting drinking nights for Marines, including local USMC Recruiters. If they couldn't peg him as a fraud, how in the world were we Non-USMC vets supposed to?

J said...

Rick could have done all that "good work" as a civilian. Instead he just helped increase suspicion of real vets.

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