A Marine Corps sergeant was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months confinement and fined $25,000 for pretending to be an injured war hero to get free seats at rock concerts and professional sporting events.
Sgt. David W. Budwah also will be reduced in rank to private and dishonorably discharged after any appeals. He must forfeit all pay and benefits during his confinement and is subject to up to 3 1/2 years of additional prison time if he re-offends within two years.
Navy Capt. Bruce W. MacKenzie, chief judge for the Navy and Marine Corps, gave the sentence after Budwah pleaded guilty to seven counts in a military courtroom on the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Va. The offenses included making false statements, malingering, misconduct and unlawful appropriation, and carried a combined maximum prison term of 8 1/2 years.
Budwah, 34, of Springhill, La., acknowledged during the hearing that he was never deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, as he had claimed. He said he lied about having helped with the 2004 tsunami relief effort and didn't earn eight medals and ribbons he wore on his uniform.
"The truth of it is, I was never deployed and I was never injured," Budwah said. "Everything that I said was false."
He was actually a radio operator in Okinawa, Japan, from early 2000 to early 2006, when he was transferred to Quantico and worked as a retail store stock clerk and warehouse laborer.
He admitted to bluffing his way into 13 events last year including banquets; Counting Crows, Boston and Collective Soul concerts; a Washington Redskins football game; and a Washington Nationals baseball game.
He also lied to obtain a laptop computer and personal digital assistant from Soldiers' Angels, an organization that helps wounded service members.
"It does a lot of damage," Kassie Claughton, a Soldiers' Angels representative, testified. "People who actually have been in combat — it kind of neglects what they're going through."
Budwah acknowledged he lied when he told young boys at an American Legion camp in western Maryland in July 2008 that he was wounded in Afghanistan when he dove on a homemade grenade to shield a buddy from the blast.
He apologized to those he deceived, especially workers and volunteers at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he was an inpatient during the second half of 2008.
"You were only trying to help me and I betrayed that trust," Budwah said.
He said he initially was sent to the hospital for outpatient treatment for stomach problems and then became depressed and suicidal after a romantic relationship — his first since a divorce — ended in April 2008.
He said he started lying because he liked the treatment at Bethesda and wanted to fit in with the wounded warriors he had befriended.
"It seemed if I had that — something similar to everybody else — that would make me feel more like a crowd or a group of people," Budwah told the judge.
The prosecutor, Marine Capt. Thomas Liu, said Budwah had besmirched the Marine Corps' integrity.
"Let there be no mistake — the services and gifts that the accused obtained, they were not free. But their value is overshadowed by the benevolent intent of the people who gave them. That is the violation here today," Liu said.