Former sailor posed as rear admiral

WASHINGTON — He wore a short-sleeve Navy summer white uniform, crisp and pressed. He had the black and gold shoulder boards of a rear admiral and a chest full of ribbons and carried himself with the confidence such a high rank bestows. He said he was a veteran who had served all over the world, in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq.

Last year, at a ceremony in Falls Church, Va., to commemorate the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces Day, Trung Huan Nguyen took the stage and addressed a crowd of about 100 Vietnamese Americans.

Although he certainly seemed like the real thing, there was something that wasn’t quite right about the man in white. No matter how perfect his uniform, or plentiful his service and personal decoration ribbons, some attendees were suspicious. They checked him out. And on Wednesday, Nguyen pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., to impersonating a Navy rear admiral.

In truth, Nguyen, of Middletown, Del., was only an enlisted man and had been out of the Navy for 13 years.

Prosecutors said Nguyen’s deceit went far beyond merely playing the part of a highly ranked officer at the event, held in June 2007. They said that he kept a profile on the Web site that claimed he was commissioned into the Navy as a medical doctor in 1985 and received special warfare training. In his online biography, he played up his combat experience and said he had served in the Persian Gulf War, the global war on terrorism and the Iraq war.

The reality, prosecutors said, was that he was a petty officer third class. He served aboard the USS Missouri and the USS Constellation and at the Naval Air Station at North Island San Diego. His Navy career lasted just four years and ended with an honorable discharge.

Lawyer David Hubbard said his client told the judge that he perpetrated the fraud because he had always wanted to be a naval officer and could never get over the disappointment of not realizing his dream.

“I think that he very much wanted to be in the officer corps and that despite his best efforts, he was disappointed that he never made it,” Hubbard said.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigated the case, and now Nguyen is facing a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He was released on a personal recognizance bond. As part of his plea, he agreed to turn over any uniforms, insignias and decorations he is not entitled to. He is also required to send in a “mental health evaluation and treatment and waive all confidentiality,” according to court documents.

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