Published:May 18, 2021



A 6- to 12-year prison sentence imposed on a Pennsylvania man who lied about being an Army combat veteran and then ripped off an American Legion post for $17,000 isn’t unreasonable, a state appeals court concluded Tuesday.

Yet, because of an error involving the merging of two theft convictions, the Superior Court panel sent the case of Christopher M. Crawford, who was once classified as a deserter, back to a county court for resentencing.

The main point in the state court’s opinion on the case, penned by Senior Judge Dan Pellegrini, was its rejection of Crawford’s contention that his conviction for lying about his service to gain access to the legion post is unconstitutional.

Pellegrini discounted Crawford’s claim that the law is so vague he could be forgiven for assuming he qualified for veteran status. Anyone with normal intelligence would have concluded otherwise, the state judge found.
As Pellegrini noted, Crawford, now 33, enlisted in the Army in 2007 and went AWOL three months later. He was listed as a deserter and received an “other than honorable” discharge after he turned himself in.
He lied to join the American Legion and in 2018 joined the organization’s Post 568, eventually rising to membership on its leadership board.

“He falsely told (post members) that he was a veteran of the Iraq War and that he had received a Purple Heart for sustaining a brain injury from an explosive device,” Pellegrini wrote. “Crawford also regularly wore a cap affixed with badges and pins which are only conferred upon military veterans for exploits that Crawford had never achieved. These unearned decorations included a Combat Infantryman Badge1 and a 10th Mountain Division pin.”

Between March and August of 2019, while he was the post’s adjutant and finance officer, Crawford used the group’s debit cards to pay for hotels, restaurant and bar tabs, gambling at casinos and air travel to Florida, investigators said. It was Crawford’s idea for the post to get those cards, Pellegrini noted.

Crawford was convicted during a nonjury trial on a charge of misrepresentation of status as member or veteran of military, misrepresentation of decoration or medal, receiving stolen property, access device fraud and theft by unlawful taking.

Despite Crawford’s claim to the contrary, the law regarding lying about military service isn’t vague enough to give Crawford a loophole, Pellegrini concluded.

“Persons of ordinary intelligence would not have to guess at the statute’s meaning. No reasonable person would have thought that a veteran could refer to a trainee who deserted before recording a single day of active service and who received less than an honorable discharge,” the judge wrote.
“There is, in fact, every indication from Crawford’s own conduct that he knew his real background fell short of qualifying him as a veteran; otherwise, he would not have lied about it,” Pellegrini added.

In rejecting Crawford’s argument that his sentence is too harsh, Pellegrini cited the county judge’s finding that his crimes were a “severe affront” to the post’s bona fide veterans and were “motivated by greed and convenience with no remorse whatsoever and no acceptance of responsibility.”