and chronic low self-esteem stemming from his childhood."
Army veteran Brian Culp, whose fictional military career included battle wounds, decorations for heroism and a Somalia rescue mission as an Army Ranger, was sentenced in real life Tuesday to three years' probation.Culp, 38, had pleaded guilty this month to three misdemeanor charges of falsely claiming a Purple Heart, falsely claiming a Bronze Star with valor and creating a fake military identification card that allowed him access to area military bases.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, U.S. Magistrate John Primomo could have given him up to six months behind bars, and Culp's prosecutor said he was very deserving of incarceration.
“Mr. Culp is an admitted liar. He's a fraud, a fraud of the worst kind,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Moussette, a military veteran who cited two relatives who were awarded Purple Hearts.
“We don't get a lot in the military in terms of dollars and cents, so awards mean a lot. He deserves to spend time in jail to think about it,” he told the court.
While serving two tours in the Army, Culp was disciplined at least twice for making false claims about his record. He continued to do so after being honorably discharged, passing himself off as an elite Ranger.
It was not until August 2007, when he was caught trying to enter Lackland AFB with a fake ID card identifying him as a retired master sergeant, that serious consequences loomed.
Culp eventually confessed to Air Force detectives to using his home computer to create the ID card and to creating highly embellished discharge papers. This allowed him to obtain Purple Heart license plates and also claim benefits from the Veterans Administration.
But all the bravado and pretense were gone Tuesday. Culp, speaking in a barely audible voice, answered a series of questions posed by his lawyer Ben Stephenson before being sentenced.
Contrite and apologetic, he attributed his misconduct variously to a bad divorce, not taking his anti-depressant medications and chronic low self-esteem stemming from his childhood.
“There was this feeling of unimportance, not feeling confident and secure in myself, not being proud of what I am and what I had done,” he told Primomo.
He said in the 15 months since his arrest, he has been taking his medications and rebuilding his life, and he asked the judge to allow him to continue.
Stephenson said Culp was harshly punished by a lengthy article in the San Antonio Express-News examining his serial fabrications. The article triggered more than 100 online responses, many of which were highly critical.
The publicity cost Culp his job and drew threats on his life, Stephenson said.
“My client has been tarred and feathered. He's likely suffered more damage in the media that this court would have jurisdiction to do to him,” he said.
Primomo quickly made it clear he did not consider Culp deserving of incarceration.
“He has served his country honorably for a long time. There is nothing that excuses what he has done. He'll receive a lengthy term of probation,” he said.
“When you consider the drug cases I see, the child pornography cases, this does not compare,” he said.
But Culp may not be out of the woods. An investigation by the Office of Inspector General of the Veterans Administration into his alleged receipt of $11,000 in benefits based on false claims remains open, and that offense is a felony.