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Sun, May 01, 2005

Hero Pilot -- Wasn't

Woman Indicted For Fraudulent Veteran Claims

By Aero-News Senior Correspondent Kevin R.C. "Hognose" O'Brien

Lisa Jane Phillips, 34, had a good excuse for her frequent absences from the campus of Meredith College, a private school in Raleigh, NC.

She was a combat pilot in the US Air Force, a captain, subject to frequent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan where, she said, she was shot down and wounded -- and the uniform she wore on return from her missions backed her up, with its rows of medals, including the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

Or did it?

Campus police chief Frank Strickland was a real war vet -- of Vietnam -- where he was a real pilot -- of helicopters. Strickland became suspicious and called in federal agents, and Phillips's story quickly unraveled. She had left copious evidence, including the uniforms, and emails she had sent campus administrators, where she claimed that "[s]he was involved in everything. She single-handedly saved the country," according to Cynthia Stroot, of the Defense Department's Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS), speaking to the Raleigh News and Observer.

DCIS and FBI agents arrested Phillips in early April and she faces a 12-count Federal indictment. Her attorney, Woody Webb, is trying to plea-bargain her off the hook, a process he curiously described to CBS News in these terms: "My client will take full responsibility for whatever she is accountable for." Sounds like a 12-count guilty plea to us.

Commenters on an internet chat board suggested that Phillips may plead multiple personality disorder, to which one wag had the snappy riposte: "Well, unless one of the personalities joined the Air Force at some point, they're all in trouble."

The twelve counts are:

  • falsely impersonating an officer of the United States
  • falsely impersonating an officer of the United States in order to obtain a thing of value
  • making a false statement in a matter within the jurisdiction of the U. S. Department of Defense
  • six counts of wire fraud
  • possessing without authority insignia of the Department of Defense
  • wearing without authority the uniform of the armed forces of the United States
  • and wearing without authority decorations and medals authorized by Congress for the armed forces of the United States.

All in all, that adds up to a potential 191 years in crowbar motel (the wire fraud charges are good for 20 years each).

(And no, we don't know why the charge is "falsely impersonating." Can you "truly impersonate?" It's probably just the Government again being redundant again).

The agents found evidence that Phillips had bought her uniforms in surplus stores and on the web. She was indiscriminate in awarding herself medals as well; one of the gongs she proudly wore was a European/North African Theater campaign medal from World War II, last awarded sixty years ago. As well as the Bronze Star, given for wartime service or valor, and Purple Heart, given to personnel wounded or killed in combat with an armed enemy, she also wore the Kuwait Liberation Medal, from the first Gulf War; a wide range of achievement and service medals; and the Air Force Good Conduct Medal, only awarded to enlisted and non-commissioned Air Force personnel.

Phillips's final insult to actual veterans is mind-boggling: based on her war stories, the administrators of Meredith College awarded her at least two years' worth of free tuition and fees, over forty thousand dollars' worth. The college does not waive or discount its charges for real veterans, and in light of the criminal charges doesn't want to comment on the exception it made for Phillips.

But Lisa J. Phillips was a hero -- just ask her. It just might be a while before she's available to talk.

FMI: www.af.mil (for those interested in earning medals), www.usdoj.gov (for those just wearing them)

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