by Alan Cohn, WFTS-TV, Tampa, Fla.
It’s one thing to get a great tip. It was another thing to actually catch Angel Ocasio in full Marine Corps Uniform wearing the Navy Cross he didn’t earn.
I learned the Tampa man was going around dressed as a Marine as the result of making calls to introduce myself to people in the area. [Cohn moved to Tampa in August after eight years at WTNH in New Haven, Conn.] After contacting local veterans, I was given some photographs of Ocasio wearing a marine tee shirt and copies of the DD-214 [discharge papers] he was using to join local veterans groups.
I interviewed local vets who described what he had told them about serving in the Marines, fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and winning the Navy Cross which is one of the military’s highest commendations. But my station wouldn’t report the story unless I could find Ocasio in uniform.
The problem was Ocasio and his wife would move from one VFW to another. They would frequent Marine Corps League detachments to American Legion halls and then move on every time people began getting suspicious of them. They also have moved from apartment to apartment and from house to house.
How did we find them?
Ocasio listed his wife’s office number on his application to join the Marine Corps League. We traced the number to a local business. We had been given a photo Ocasio that included his wife Terry. So we went to the business, spotted her leaving work, saw her board a city bus and followed the bus across the city. When she got off the bus, we followed her home.
We then visited the nearest VFW hall, showed members Ocasio’s photo and were told he visited all the time. The commander and vice commander agreed to call me if they saw Ocasio and his wife show up again.
Late on a Friday night as I was jogging, I got a call. Still wearing running shorts and a tee shirt, I raced across town as the photographer I was working with drove to the station to get his camera.
When I got to the American Legion hall, Ocasio was there in full uniform with his wife. Since the photographer wasn’t there yet, I took out my Blackberry and asked if I could ask him and other vets some questions. As soon as I asked him about his awards and he told me he had the Navy Cross, I knew we had our story.
The photographer showed up minutes later and we confronted Ocasio outside with information that the Marine Corps had no record of him.
The FBI is now wrapping up its investigation and will soon forward the results to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
I’ve been fortunate to have broken a number of big stories in my career. I won a Peabody in 2007 for my investigation into faulty parts on Blackhawk helicopters. But this may have been the best example of good old gum shoe investigative work we’ve done.