Decked out military groom to be sent to the brig
by Benjamin Alexander-Bloch, The Times-Picayune
Wednesday October 01, 2008, 9:00 PM
Jerome Ticker, dressed in a captain's Navy whites complete with prestigious Navy Cross, Silver Star and Purple Heart decorations, was quite the striking figure at his wedding in Slidell.
The problem is, he never served in the Navy, or in any branch of the military.
Ticker, 42, of the Holden community in Livingston Parish, had convinced his fiancee that he was a war hero, a Navy Seal festooned with medals, and so it was only fitting for him to decorate himself to a T in his deceit for their April 12 nuptials.
While the bride may have fallen for Ticker's tale, at least one person at the ceremony didn't buy it, and notified authorities.
On Tuesday, Ticker pleaded guilty in New Orleans to a federal charge of illegally wearing the medals and was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey to 12 months of home confinement, followed by two years of supervised release and a $500 fine.
"He said he was motivated as a desire to impress his wife, " U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said.
Ticker could not be reached for comment.
The Stolen Valor bill, passed into law in 2006, expanded and increased federal penalties for falsely claiming to have earned any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the armed forces.
Ticker bought the uniform online and the awards from a local military surplus store, according to Special Agent D'Wayne W. Swear, the New Orleans investigator for the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
Ticker, who works for a building maintenance company in Gonzales, posed as a Navy captain, the rank just below rear admiral. Previously, with his first wife, he had played the part of a lieutenant commander in the Navy, Swear said.
For his April wedding, Ticker mistakenly wore his lieutenant commander's hat with his captain's uniform.
The proper captain's hat has gold leafing on the bill, leafing that Navy men call "scrambled eggs."
Swear tracked Ticker down after Swear received an anonymous tip from someone at the wedding. The tip directed him to online wedding photographs that showed Ticker in his full, illegal and improperly configured regalia.
In their book, "Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of its Heroes and its History, " B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley write about the phony war hero phenomenon.
Burkett, a consultant on military fraud for various federal law enforcement agencies, said that generally, veterans are considered brave, loyal, patriotic, trustworthy and honest. Therefore people who have low self-esteem hope to get those qualities thrust upon them by alluding to heroic -- even if fictitious -- exploits in battle.
A typical motivation is to impress women or make women trust them, Burkett and Whitley said.
"And the Navy Seal is a very popular one among phonies, " said Whitley, who mentioned that other popular choices are prisoners of war, especially with all the recent attention to presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, and special forces soldiers.
"People don't want to be the run-of-the-mill soldier, who just does his job and serves his time in the military, " she said. "If you are making something up, you might as well go all the way."
In the 2005 comedy film "Wedding Crashers, " actors Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson discuss how to get free drinks at weddings that have cash bars.
"Purple Hearts, " Vaughn says, pulling out two medals. "We won't have to buy drinks all night."
"Perfect, " Wilson replies.
At the time, the scene caused an uproar among veterans groups. New Line Cinema's Web site, in a promotion of the film that instructed people on how to win attention at a wedding, had suggested that would-be wedding crashers print out a fake Purple Heart medal because "carrying a Purple Heart in your jacket guarantees you attention, admiration and plenty of free booze."
"To get one of these babies, some dudes have to prove their physical, mental and spiritual strength with great feats of bravery on the battlefield, " it continued.
Because of the controversy, the studio eventually pulled the promotion, prompted in part by intervention from U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., who that same year sponsored the Stolen Valor Act. The name of the act was based on Burkett and Whitley's book.
"If any movie-goers take the advice of the 'Wedding Crashers' and try to use fake Purple Hearts to get girls, they may wind up picking up an FBI agent instead, " Salazar warned at the time.
Wearing, manufacturing, buying, selling or trading a Medal of Honor already was a federal crime, but the Stolen Valor bill expanded the law to include more medals and allowed prosecution of anyone who falsely claimed to have earned one.
Under the current federal law, the maximum sentence is one year in prison and a $5,000 fine.