Wednesday, February 13, 2008

LAWRENCE: Stokes pleads guilty to impersonating a Marine

another fraud

By Jill Harmacinski
Staff Writer

LAWRENCE — Former School Committee member James Stokes yesterday cited his "conscience" as the reason he pleaded guilty to federal charges of impersonating a Marine veteran and lying about receiving a Purple Heart.

Stokes, 63, of 103 Boxford St., remains a free man until his May 15 sentencing in U.S. District Court in Boston. Stokes faces up to a year in prison, fines of $100,000 and a year of supervised released on each charge, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly said.

Kelly said he would push for prison time for Stokes but he could not specify the length until he reviews a pre-sentencing report from probation.

During the 10-minute plea hearing in Boston, federal Judge Joyce Alexander asked Stokes what led him to plead guilty.

"My conscience," said Stokes, who was dressed in a beige suit.

Kelly said he was pleased Stokes admitted his guilt and the criminal case was handled promptly.

Stokes was arrested by FBI agents Jan. 9 at Top Donut in South Lawrence. He resigned from his newly elected seat on the School Committee two days later.

"I credit the fine work of the FBI," Kelly said.

Stokes and his lawyer, William Fick, declined comment.

Kelly said the evidence against Stokes included a forged discharge document he presented to a Lawrence veterans official in November 2006. Last October, during a rally for missing Army Spec. Alex Jimenez, who is from Lawrence, Stokes then told another veteran he was a Purple Heart recipient.

Finally, during questioning by an FBI agent on Jan. 4, Stokes "admitted he was never a Marine," Kelly said.

The Purple Heart is awarded to military personnel wounded or killed in action by or against an enemy. The federal Stolen Valor Act, signed by President Bush in 2006, made it a crime to falsely claim ownership of a Purple Heart.

Stokes has claimed the forged discharge record, known in military circles as a DD214, was given to him by a deceased brother. Stokes signed the document, which claimed he served 20 years in the Marines, and turned it into the city in 2006.

Francisco Urena, the city's current Veterans Affairs director, said the document was littered with contradictions and inaccuracies.

Yesterday's plea ends a decade of local speculation over Stokes' military record.

Questions about his service were raised during his four failed attempts for the City Council. Inquiries surfaced again when Stokes defeated Gregory Morris, the School Committee incumbent. Stokes identified himself as a veteran on the city ballot.

Over the years, Stokes also appeared in military uniform at Lawrence events.

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: