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Stolen Valor - Stolen Justice

By Robert Jess of the Senior Gazette
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Idaho County, Idaho - From its salmon rich whitewater rivers in spring, to its canola yellow prairie fields in summer, to its snow capped mountain wilderness in winter, Idaho County is a land of extremes.

Covering 8,500 square miles and 2 time zones, its sparse population of 15,000 is often a volatile mix of socially introverted third and fourth generation ranchers along with ‘newcomers’ whose motives are always suspect. So close-knit are the locals it’s been said that a newcomer can’t buy a piece of property on the Camas Prairie without it being passed over by locals beforehand, which seldom happens.

Newcomers are made up of entrepreneurs, federal workers; mostly BLM and Forest Service, mixed in with limited-government and religious survivalist groups, a sprinkling of fugitives, and many retirees and military veterans who’s only wish is to be left alone.

It’s into this odd blend that the paths of David R. Hinkson of Grangeville and Elven ‘Joe’ Swisher of Cottonwood would cross, leaving both lives forever changed.

A Case of Stolen Valor?

The term stolen valor is often used to describe people who claim military service and medal history that they never actually earned. And Joe Volk has seen it before.

Volk, 59, was a Marine Corps machine gunner in Vietnam in 1969 with 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, Alpha Company for, as he describes it, “11 months, 9 days, 10 hours and 6 minutes. And that was long enough”. He received eight citations for his service during his tour of combat duty.

Now a retired Michigan Ironworker living in rural Idaho County, Volk had helped many fellow veterans over the years garner much deserved benefits, occasionally running across some who were also ‘stolen valor’ candidates.

“The first one I caught was back in Michigan. He said he took a bayonet in the stomach - but there was no hole. Amazing. said Volk."

“He said he belonged to the VFW, but I had found two DD214’s on him and one said he never even left the country.”

A DD214 is the paperwork that is issued upon discharge from active service that states specifics about a soldier’s military service record and is the basis for VA claims, processes and benefits.

Only one DD214 is issued for each enlistment period.

“I sent it up (the chain of command) and they supposedly booted him out, or so they said,” added Volk.. “Two weeks later he was standing up on a picnic table leading a parade, like nothing happened. It isn’t the first time I’ve seen it.”

According to court papers and interviews, long time Cottonwood resident Elven ‘Joe’ Swisher, 70, was charged in a four count indictment in July, 2007 and was arrested without incident at the VA hospital in Spokane, WA in August. The federal level charges are: wearing false medals, lying to obtain benefits and forgery, and theft of government funds for VA benefits he didn’t deserve.

According to a Sept. 16 Marine Corps Times article, if convicted of all charges, Swisher could potentially face up to 20 years and six months in prison along with a $755,000 fine. He is currently a free man, awaiting trial scheduled for this January.

Swisher was previously arrested and charged in 1988 with 2 counts of child rape involving his daughters. The case was declared a mistrial because the Idaho County prosecutor at the time, current Idaho County assistant prosecutor Dennis Albers, was seen talking with a juror. Swisher was never convicted nor recharged in that case.

Volk first met Swisher in Grangeville as he was getting a set of tires put on his pickup; “He saw my truck (bumper stickers) and he said ‘Marine Corps?

Oh, me too. Who were you with?’ I told him and he said ‘always a pleasure to meet a fellow combat Marine’.

According to Volk, Joe Swisher had no VA benefits when he first met him but was so convincing that Volk was sure he was legitimate and then assisted Swisher with gaining VA disability benefits.

The two then started doing things together. They would get together with their wives for dinner and occasional good times. Volk joined Swisher in the Sgt. Major Linehan detachment of the Lewiston-based Marine Corp League. Swisher quickly moved up the detachment’s chain of command to become detachment commander, even assisting in giving out condolences and honors to local fallen Iraqi war veteran’s families on behalf of the Marine Corp League.

When someone sent Volk information questioning Swisher’s military record, he started to wonder more about who he was dealing with.

“One day he called me and asked me to his office to help put up some shelving. I walked into his office and on his desk I do believe was a Silver Star,” Volk said. “I picked it up and it was in a cardboard box. But I don’t know another person who has a Silver Star in the Marine Corps.

Usually, when you have a Silver Star you have paperwork that accompanies it. You make a copy and put it on the wall but you keep the original paperwork separate. He didn’t do that”

“But this is what I feel really bad about,” said Volk.

“His dad was a highly decorated WWII vet.

He was 90 years old and had been run over by a tank, shot and wounded. He had no benefits. I said ‘you take him down to the VA and you’ll get some money for him’. And lo and behold within a couple of months he got 100%, which he deserved. Then he (Joe) started calling me on the phone and telling me ‘Yeah, I was in Korea. 150 guys went on this secret mission and only 39 of us came back’. He kept trying to convince me that this happened, and I ain’t convinced. So I started doing research.”

He allegedly discovered was that Joe Swisher had two DD214’s for the same period of service, one that was blank - and one with citations and decorations. The first one had an Idaho County court clerk stamp dated February 5, 2001. The second DD214 also had an Idaho county court clerk stamp but was dated February 2, 2004.

“So we have a discrepancy with a DD214 that had no record, and one with a distinguished military record,” said Volk.

Swisher then appeared at Volk’s Fourth of July party in 2004 wearing a vest with numerous military decorations.

“The first time I accused him of being a phony someone else had e-mailed me about him. I thought; this is kind of strange here. At that time I really didn’t know about his medals and decorations. I started digging more and more and we started an investigation down there (Sgt. Linehan Post of the Marine Corps League) and they try to cover it all up.”

Volk then asked that those in charge contact him regarding his stolen valor allegations against Swisher. No one ever did. Instead, Swisher had Volk and several other members removed from the detachment, violating protocol for expulsion, Volk said.

But Volk still persisted in trying to out Swisher as stolen valor, moving it up the chain of command all the way back to Washington, DC., and in April of 2006 a hearing was held in Lewiston with five high level staff of the Marine Corp League attending from all over the country.

Swisher and his attorney, Brit Groom of Cottonwood, Volk, and over 100 Marine Corp League members showed up for what was supposed to be an open door meeting. But only Swisher, Groom, Volk and their witnesses were allowed to go inside. The meeting lasted for 11 hours.

“I got there and I thought the League’s JAG (attorney) Dennis Dressler would represent me. But they told me that I had to present the case!”, said Volk.

2 weeks later Swisher was kicked out of the Marine Corp League for life and in August of this year was federally charged with the 4 crimes involving stolen valor.

But what may only be a case of cowardly stolen valor has had serious ramifications in the life of David Roland Hinkson.

A Case Of Stolen Justice?

David Hinkson now starts his days in a most extreme place - Admax maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado.

The facility, just west of Pueblo, is one of the highest security level prisons in the world. Those inside call it a political prison.

Hinkson, 51, was tried and sentenced in 2005 to spend the next 43 years in the federal penal system and is surrounded by the likes of ‘Unabomber’ Ted Kaczynski, Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols, ‘shoe bomber’ Richard Reid and terrorist Zacharias Moussaoui.

He had no previous criminal record prior to his arrest, and conviction, and was a businessman who had moved to Grangeville in 1998, starting a successful mineral water company, WaterOz. Joe Swisher had been involved with Hinkson in testing the water for mineral content levels, and claimed in a civil lawsuit that Hinkson had promised him a percent of his business. The lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice in 2005.

Hinkson will spend the first 10 years of his sentence in solitary confinement - a 6’ x10’ cell with no contact with other inmates. He gets one hour per day outdoors, confined to a 30x30 enclosed cage. He’s allowed two 15 minute phone calls per week which are monitored by jail officials and the calls cut off at exactly 15 minutes. If he ever ‘shows attitude’, then he only gets one call a month.

His father, 77 year old Roland Hinkson of Ouray, Colorado, is among the very few who get to visit, often taking the 6 hour drive through winter snow and summer rain to the desolate high plains of south central Colorado to be with his eldest son.

Hinkson’s conviction on 3 counts of ‘murder for hire’ were based exclusively on the testimony of Elven ‘Joe’ Swisher, who testified under oath that he was solicited by Hinkson to kill several officials who were involved in prosecuting him on income tax charges including US District Judge Edward Lodge of Boise, US Attorney Nancy Cook and IRS special agent Steven Hines.

Originally indicted on 11 counts of murder for hire, Hinkson was convicted of only 3 counts - all based solely on Swisher’s testimony under oath.

During his sworn testimony Swisher wore a Purple Heart medallion on his lapel and, according to court transcripts, testified that he had been awarded a Purple Heart, had personally killed “too many people” and was part of a special Marine expeditionary force sent out to rescue POW’s after the Korean War.

According to Roland Hinkson, prosecutors involved were fully aware that Swisher’s DD214 military record was fraudulent and yet allowed his testimony to go forward - even after objection by Hinkson’s defense lawyers, Wes Hoyt and Tom Nolan.

“He (US prosecutor Michael P. Sullivan from Washington DC’s counter-terrorism office) had a copy of Swisher’s fake DD214 eleven days before the trial,” Roland Hinkson said. “When he was asked by Hoyt in open court why he didn’t give them the evidence that Swisher’s military records were fraudulent he stated ‘Why should I?’” “This was a direct violation of the Brady/Giglio evidence discovery rule of criminal procedure,” said Hoyt.

“It was ‘trial by ambush’”.

The elder Hinkson says that because the military never issues a duplicate DD214 before they issue a DD215, or a review of military service, that Sullivan should have known that Swisher’s record was a fraud. “The government had access to all of that information.”

Ben Casey, a juror at Hinkson’s trial from Caldwell, Idaho stated in a sworn affidavit dated February 24th 2005: "I am aware that the headquarters of the US Marine Corps considers the “replacement” DD 214 military record to be a forgery, which record was produced by prosecution witnesses Joe Swisher (which he waved in front of the jury stating that it was a 'certified copy'). I’m also advised Mr. Swisher did not participate in a secret mission, did not have combat experience and did not sustain injuries in Korea as he testified. I was surprised that Mr. Swisher was allowed to tell such lies which created the misimpression that he would be a good “hit man” candidate based on having been a decorated combat veteran and having participated in a secret post-Korean War rescue operations. These lies discredit him as a witness and therefore discredit the rest of his testimony. I relied upon the credibility of Mr. Swisher when I cast my vote to convict Mr. Hinkson... If I had known that Mr. Swisher was not a credible witness as to his US Marine Corps service and secret missions, or that he lied about having had combat experience, or that he was not entitled to wear a Purple Heart, or that the military record he waved in front of the jury as a “certified copy” of his DD214 was a forgery, I would not have voted for a guilty verdict."

When contacted at his home in Cottonwood about the allegations Joe Swisher said the federal charges were "primarily crap.” “It’s one of those things. It’s regrettable, it’s embarrassing as hell,” he said. “I bled for our country and I don’t like being treated this way.”

He added, “I am a combat veteran and I earned my citations. But the problem is that I testified against David Hinkson back in January of 2005. And since that time he’s been trying to discredit me in order to gain a new trial. That’s it in a nutshell.” Regarding his testimony under oath at Hinkson’s federal trial Swisher stated; “All I can do is tell the truth. Unfortunately David talks too damn much. He knew that I had been involved in Special Ops when I was in the Marine Corps. He also knew that I had very little when it comes to service record. It was completely sanitized.” “I don’t hold my head down, I go anyplace I want to.”

Swisher added. “These people can shove it up their you-know-what as far as I’m concerned. I know where I was 50 years ago, I know what I did 50 years ago, and all these other people don’t. But I can prove it too”.

“I’ve been called everything short of human. The bottom line is I know what the truth is. And what’s that old saying, ‘the truth shall set you free’?”

On May 7th David Roland Hinkson’s appeal for a new trial was argued before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court has yet to make a decision regarding Hinkson’s appeal and he remains in solitary confinement in Admax Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado. Listen to Audio of that appeal here

To contact Roland Hinkson call 970-325-4522 or Wes Hoyt call 800-220-4698

David R. Hinkson write:
David R. Hinkson #08795-023
PO Box 7000
Florence, CO 81226