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Phony Navy SEAL,Les Agro from Summerville, South Carolina is our "PHONY NAVY SEAL of the WEEK." Retired Navy SEAL Don Shipley exposes Phony Navy SEALs and Military Impostors.
Last week, Les Agro of Summerville told a story about being a Navy SEAL who'd taken part in the 1991 liberation of Kuwait. It was a tale he's convincingly spun for at least eight years.
On Tuesday, Agro admitted he's an impostor.
"I wanted to be more than I am," he said of the lie he's told to his family, the American Legion, a therapy provider and the newspaper. He did serve five years in the Navy, discharged as a petty officer second class, records show.
Agro, 43, was featured in a front-page Post and Courier story Monday about post- traumatic stress disorder and an effort to provide vets peace through horse-riding therapy. The interview took place on the Ridgeville farm where Leslie and Sidney Clark operate Horses In Service Ministries, a faith-based nonprofit that hopes to strengthen ties between PTSD victims and their families. Agro has a wife and three children.
During the interview, Agro, a barrel-chested man who wears his hair military-style short, spoke of the bond forged with comrades in combat, even becoming emotional about his experiences. He also claimed to have been wounded during the liberation of Kuwait.
Leslie Clark said she thought Agro to be legitimate and wanted to provide a spiritual benefit.
"I believed him," Clark said. "I didn't check his story because I'd heard it from several other people."
Agro also had been sponsored by the American Legion Post 208 West Ashley, which put up the several hundred dollars needed for the Agros to join the horse program. A member of the legion post also said he'd accepted Agro's account of his military service as factual.
Representatives of groups that regularly monitor military claims, including some former SEALs say Agro was spotted among the streams of phonies detected every year for inflating their record or creating an alternative military persona.
"If we knew why, we'd be rich," said Mary Schantag, a founding board member of POW Network, which strives to keep military records accurate. The Missouri-based group has listed more than 4,000 exposed phonies who come from all types of religious, ethnic and social status backgrounds.
Don Shipley of Virginia, a retired SEAL who helps keep a database of team members that goes back decades, said he investigates up to 10 cases a day of people claiming to be SEAL veterans -- the Navy's elite Sea, Air, Land special warfare commandos. He puts fakers into two categories: those who start by trying to impress women and those who live their lie full time.
Telling a phony story while a deceived wife stands nearby is part of the con's common trick to gain acceptance, Shipley added. "That's how they get 'in,' " he said.
Shipley said he welcomed media coverage of military story-tellers, saying it's a paper trail when there's a reason to expose someone as fraudulent. He estimated that for every true member of the SEALs there are 300 more who say they are, including the "loudmouth" in a bar or an uncle or neighbor whose story doesn't ring true.
If a person gained any financial benefit from a false service assertion, they could be investigated under the Stolen Valor Act, which makes it a federal crime to falsely claim earning a military decoration.
Agro's confession came after The Post and Courier repeatedly asked him to defend his service record, a record that throughout the day Monday he steadfastly asserted as accurate and true, even to the point of offering to provide his discharge papers. At the same time, The Post and Courier filed a Freedom of Information Act request Monday with the military's National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.
The data provided Tuesday shows Agro did serve in the Navy from September 1986 to November 1991, leaving at the rank of petty officer second class. It indicates no record of service on land in the Persian Gulf and no record of service in Panama, where Agro also claimed to be a SEAL.
In a later e-mail, Agro said he wanted to atone for what he'd done. "The old adage about lies growing like snowballs is true. One grows into 10. Ten grow into 100. I couldn't stop it once it got started. I wanted to repeatedly. I think that's why I did the interview. I wanted to stop, and to stop in my head meant getting caught."