Thief of military medals draws 6-year jail term Man sold the originals, replaced them with fakes

January 23, 1996|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,SUN STAFF

A former Carroll County budget analyst who admitted exchanging the military medals of eight Maryland veterans for fakes was sentenced yesterday to six years in jail by a Carroll County Circuit judge.

In each case, Stephen Van Rensselaer Pyne of Westminster told the Carroll and Anne Arundel county veterans or their families that he would refurbish and frame the medals.

The victims -- one of them a retired admiral in Anne Arundel -- received replacement medals from Pyne, who also took the medals' certificates of authenticity.

Pyne pleaded guilty to five counts of theft in Carroll County on Nov. 20. On Dec. 11, he pleaded guilty to three counts of theft in Anne Arundel County.

"Mr. Pyne harmed the people who were heroes to him," his attorney, David B. Weisgerber, said in Carroll County Circuit Court yesterday.

"In a strange irony, he gave these people more press coverage for their acts of heroism," Mr. Weisgerber said. "He gave them one last hurrah."

The medals, said the attorney, were stolen and sold to help pay for improvements to Pyne's Westminster townhouse.

"He was financially strapped," Mr. Weisgerber said of Pyne, who earned $31,629 a year as a county budget analyst.

"The medal is just a token, not much different than this quarter in my hand," Mr. Weisgerber said. "He sold those medals to other collectors, but nothing changes the military records of the victims."

Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. disagreed.

"I see many, many theft cases in this court, but the difference here is quite obvious," Judge Burns said, noting that all the victims were elderly. The victims "obviously placed a great deal of trust in [Pyne], and he took advantage of that. To me, that's the real crime in this case."

In four of the cases, Judge Burns sentenced Pyne to consecutive 10-year prison terms, suspending all but 18 months in each case. In the fifth case, Judge Burns gave Pyne a concurrent 10-year sentence, which was suspended.

Mr. Weisgerber said Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. has agreed to give Pyne a term concurrent with Judge Burns' in the Anne Arundel County sentencing Feb. 2.

"I'm glad he got what he deserved," said William J. McKenzie, who received a Distinguished Service Cross and 10 other decorations for acts such as stopping a rocket-launcher team during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.

"That one attorney passed it off like another piece of metal," Mr. McKenzie said. "Those ones in the case just look like pieces of junk to me."

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