Bruce Cotta's

Distinguished Service Cross

Controversy Resolved


The following news article appeared in The Newport Daily News (Newport, Rhode Island) on July 23, 2003.  This article was printed with permission.

War hero admits award was forged

MIDDLETOWN - Army veteran Bruce F. Cotta has admitted to wearing a war medal - the Distinguished Service Cross - that he bought on the Internet.

Cotta, of Middletown, worked out an agreement with U.S. attorney's office in Providence to perform 100 hours of community service and to pay $5,000 to the Army Emergency Relief Fund. This agreement means Cotta will not be prosecuted, according to information released this morning by the U.S. attorney's office.

U.S. Attorney Margaret E. Curran said that there would be no prosecution in light of Cotta's legitimate war record in Vietnam, in which he earned the Bronze Star for Valor, the Silver Star, two Purple Hearts and the Soldier's Medal for Service.

Meanwhile, Curran's announcement ends a nearly three-year period in which Cotta celebrated the Distinguished Service Cross by speaking to civic groups, students, at veterans functions and marching in parades.

Last fall, Congress, at the behest of U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, D-R.I., passed a bill naming the local post office for Cotta. It is uncertain what action will take place concerning the post office.

What is clear is that Cotta fraudulently set up a scenario in which he would be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the military's second highest honor. In 1998, Cotta crusaded for the Medal of Honor, the top military decoration, enlisting Kennedy, and U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and U.S. Sen. John Kerry, a Democrat and a fellow Vietnam veteran from Cotta's old home state of Massachusetts.

Some veterans from his unit, including his commanding officer, retired Lt. William Monaghan, wrote letters of support. Cotta also forged two letters purportedly from a soldier in his unit, according to the FBI.

The road of deceit perhaps began there. It appears to have ended in May, when Cotta admitted to the FBI that he concocted a plan to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Cotta is out of town and could not be reached for comment. During a brief phone call late last week, Cotta said, "I really messed up" and admitted to deceiving family, friends, Kennedy, the press and others since August 2000, when Kennedy pinned the cross on Cotta's suit jacket, a medal that only Cotta knew he had purchased through the Internet.

According to the U.S. attorney's office, Cotta bought the medal online (only the Medal of Honor is not for sale) and had his name engraved on the back at a trophy shop. On top of that, Cotta used the Internet to obtain a citation for the Distinguished Service Cross.

He also created a phony military order awarding him the cross. Then he sent a forged letter, written on his home computer, to Kennedy's office informing the congressman that Cotta was being awarded the medal.

The letter to Kennedy was inside an envelope onto which Cotta had affixed a military return address from Washington, D.C.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon in August 2000, Kennedy, relying on forged documents, awarded the Distinguished Service Cross to Cotta during a ceremony at the Middletown VFW hall, attended by Cotta's family, friends and business associates.

From that point on, Cotta, 56, became a local celebrity, billed as Rhode Island's most decorated Vietnam veteran, and had a Distinguished Service Cross license plate attached to his car. Cotta, who works for Prudential Prime Properties, spoke to groups, sometimes with Kennedy, about his experiences in the war, about being hit twice by hand grenades in May 19, 1968, while treating wounded soldiers.

Kennedy's press secretary Ernesto Anguilla said the congressman learned late last night of the deal between Cotta and Curran's office but did not know the full details. Anguilla said Kennedy would have a response sometime today.

There is no evidence that Cotta lied about his war record or improperly obtained any of his other awards. Fellow platoon veterans Monaghan and John "Squirrel" Squire said recently that Cotta saved several lives in combat.

In early May, Cotta served as grand marshal of the Aquidneck Island National Police Parade. Two weeks later, Cotta's story began to fall apart. A Web site master for Cotta's battalion researched honors earned by members of the battalion and found no record of Cotta's Distinguished Service Cross, even though it had been treated as a celebration.

A NBC-10 reporter asked Cotta about the medal and he said it was properly awarded. Cotta also denied any fraudulent activity in a May interview with a Newport Daily News reporter, saying his war record spoke for itself.

"With the men I saved and the medals I have for heroism ... to think the someone would think I'm a fraud, that bothers me," Cotta said.

In fact, at the time of that interview, Cotta and his attorney, Francis J. Flanagan of Newport, were on the verge of working out a deal with the FBI and the U.S. attorney.

Curran's office will oversee Cotta's community service and $5,000 payment. Had Cotta been tried and convicted he would have faced up to six years in prison.

Cotta's case has drawn some interest around the country. Researcher/writer B.G. Burkett of Dallas tracks similar cases and his book "Stolen Valor" is considered a leading reference source. In June, Burkett said he expected that Cotta was somehow involved in buying the medal and concocting phony military orders.

"The FBI will find out," he predicted. "And it will be pretty fast. In this case, a U.S. congressman has been embarrassed."

Newport Daily News



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