Veterans' group disbands after founder exposed as impostor

May 14, 2009
photo - Rick Duncan speaks at a Sept. 11 Remembrance ceremony in 2008. Photo by Carol Lawrence, The Gazette
Rick Duncan speaks at a Sept. 11 Remembrance ceremony in 2008. Photo by Carol Lawrence, The Gazette 

A Denver-based veterans' advocacy group voted to disband Wednesday in the wake of revelations that its founder invented his past as a wounded Iraq veteran and 9/11 survivor, the group said.

Daniel Warvi, a spokesman for the Colorado Veterans Alliance, said the statewide group had hoped to continue without the executive director they knew as Rick Duncan but changed their minds Wednesday night at a board meeting.

"As far as we're concerned, Rick has permanently damaged the integrity of the CVA, and there's nothing we can do to repair it," Warvi said Thursday.

On Wednesday, the group charged that Duncan is in fact Richard Glen Strandlof, a man who appears to have assumed a made-up name and fabricated a biography as a former Marine captain who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and was gravely wounded by an improvised explosive device during his third tour in combat.

The con extended to veterans circles in Colorado Springs, where Strandlof was active in fighting for the rights of homeless veterans.

Bamboozling reporters and true veterans alike, he spoke of "experiences" in war, which he said left him with a plate in his head and a tendency to be forgetful. He drew vivid tales of surviving the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon.

Warvi said that members of the disbanded group will now focus on assisting FBI investigators in Denver with a probe into whether Strandlof kept any donations he may have collected in the name of Colorado veterans.

News of Strandlof's deceptions came at a pivotal point for the Colorado Veterans Alliance. The loose-knit group was in the process of seeking nonprofit status when members grew suspicious of Strandlof. They discovered his distortions only after digging into his past, which included a May 3, 2005, guilty plea for "unlawful taking of a motor vehicle" from an incident near Reno, Nev.

A full account of the crime wasn't available Thursday, but according to the court clerk's office, Strandlof's 9-month jail sentence was suspended on the condition that he participate in Mental Health Court, a diversionary program for people with mental illnesses.

Those court proceedings overlapped with the time Strandlof claimed to have been in Iraq, the CVA said.

Strandlof, who turned 32 Thursday, remained in the Denver County jail on a $1,000 bond on a traffic warrant from El Paso County.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver said it would not confirm or deny that an investigation is under way, and the FBI did not return phone calls.



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