14 News Investigation: Stolen Valor?
EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) - For six months, 14 News has been investigating a claim of stolen valor involving an Evansville business owner.
That's after several people contacted us, asking us to look into the matter.
Investigative reporter Jess Powers spent months acquiring documents and sifting through the information to get answers for you.
All of those documents are public records. Documents that help tell a tale, some may not want you to hear.
Veterans earn the right to wear the uniform. They have the right to display their earned patriotism.
When people falsify military claims or embellish their records, it's taken very seriously.
14 News received an email on May 20th titled "Stolen Valor".
The email claimed an Evansville business owner was portraying himself as a military veteran, but did not serve in the military.
The claims surround Richard Reisz, a man who previously identified himself to 14 News as the owner of the former Ground Zero Fitness.
That gym used to be open on Weinbach Avenue.
14 News also received pictures of a black Chevy Camaro with a veteran designated license plate out of Kentucky, driven by Richard Reisz.
His facebook page used to have several pictures of the same car.
Jason Coker, a U.S. Army veteran deployed to Iraq in 2005 as a Nuclear Biological Chemical Agent Specialist, used to belong to Reisz's gym.
Coker alerted 14 News that Reisz's military service might not exist.
" I pulled into the gym parking lot one day. Low and behold what do I see? The Chevy Camaro he's been driving. At first, it had the temporary tags. Now those temporary tags have been replaced with Kentucky issued veteran plates. I was pissed."
Coker alerted 14 News, and he alerted the organizations called Guardian of Valor and Green Beret Posers Exposed.
Representatives from both organizations told 14 News they've dealt with Reisz in 2015. An investigator with Guardian of Valor told 14 News they confronted Reisz. According to that same investigator, Reisz promised he would stop wearing military gear.
"The reason we looked at Richard was that he was approached by Green Beret Posers Exposed in 2015, for claiming to be a Green Beret in the United States Army. With his age and the time he claimed to have served, there's no way,"explained an investigator with Guardian of Valor.
"I moved forward to find he was still telling lies, and using that fake title to advance his business."
14 News submitted two public records requests to the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO.
In those requests, we submitted Reisz's full name and birthdate, gathered from public records.
Both responses 14 News received explained there was no registered military service by anyone under that name, in their database.
" There's a sacrifice made to wear that uniform, and he has never made that sacrifice," explained Jason Coker.
Individuals behind the organization Green Beret Posers Exposed sent photos to 14 News.
They claim those photos show Reisz in U.S. Army uniforms with Special Forces tags on his shoulder.
If we can't locate records of military service, how does Mr. Reisz have veteran issued license plate?
In order to obtain those types of plates, you're supposed to supply paperwork proving you're a veteran.
When we questioned the supervisor of the vehicle department at the Henderson County Clerk's Office, the supervisor discovered the problem.
The certificate of registration for that vehicle shows a veteran issued plate but the correct forms to prove military service weren't in the file.
The vehicle is registered to two people.
A woman and another person described as the "owner of Ground Zero Fitness".
After we alerted the supervisor to this problem, the supervisor called the number associated with the plate and requested it be brought back.
That person immediately brought the plate back.
According to the supervisor, the owner said he would bring the correct military record forms into the office, but he never has.
14 News has emailed Reisz repeatedly over the past three months, offering him a chance to speak. He's never agreed to be interviewed.
We sent a certified letter to Mr. Reisz with our questions.
His attorney, John Goodridge, sent us a letter back.
In the letter, Goodridge says Reisz's display of military memorabilia is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, even if others find it unpopular. Goodridge did not confirm or deny whether Reisz falsely portrayed himself as a veteran. Goodridge did say in the letter, "There can be no allegation that Mr. Reisz has benefited materially from any display, whether public or private, of his ownership of any military memorabilia.
Because of a viewer tip, 14 News has learned that Mr. Reisz no longer has a veteran issued license plate.
A civil complaint in Vanderburgh County was filed in October. That complaint alleges Reisz did not pay a $10,000 bill owed for the Ground Zero Fitness Gym. On Thursday, 14 News received word that Reisz's former gym was purchased by a completely new owner.
That new owner plans to operate a new gym at the same location.
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