Man who stole military medals, returned fakes gets 6-year term

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 received replacement medals from Pyne, who also took the certificates of authenticity for the medals.

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. He gave them one last hurrah."

The medals, he said, were stolen and sold to help pay for improvements to Pyne's Westminster townhouse. In the past, Pyne also stole items when he was short of money, Mr. Weisgerber said.

For instance, Pyne stole his father's collection of stamps and $800 from a cash register at the Leggett's department store in Westminster, where he worked to earn college tuition.

Pyne was given probation before judgment in each of those cases, Mr. Weisgerber said. It wasn't clear yesterday whether Pyne had, in fact, met the terms of probation in those cases.

"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 11 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."

Other victims in Carroll were Mary E. Batten, who lost a Navy Cross and 17 other medals awarded to her deceased husband, Capt. Hugh N. Batten; and Earl D. Leppo, who lost his Silver Star and 11 other medals.

Pyne also admitted stealing seven medals from Julie Ann Lockard that were awarded to her deceased father, Clarence Edward Lockard, and a Distinguished Service Cross and 11 other decorations from Joseph Wasco Jr.

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