A former Marine who cited lofty military honors when he was spared prison at his sentencing in Niagara County Court two weeks ago may soon find himself in more legal trouble for lying about battlefield decorations.
David J. Searight, 40, of Adam Street, City of Tonawanda, claimed to have been awarded the Navy Cross and two Purple Hearts for service in the Middle East. But the Marine Corps Times in Springfield, Va., has determined that Searight was never awarded the Navy Cross, the highest award given by the Navy for valor and second only to the Medal of Honor.
The Times began investigating Searight after a brief item appeared in The Buffalo News on April 5 reporting that Searight was granted probation, rather than two years in prison as the prosecution sought, for firing two shotgun blasts into the floor of a North Tonawanda apartment where he was living last year.
At the sentencing, Robert N. Convissar, Searight's attorney, mentioned the military honors. But he now acknowledges in a statement to the Times that he "unknowingly misrepresented the facts" in court.
Convissar sent an e-mail to the Times apologizing.
"While my client is, in fact, an honorably discharged Marine, he did not receive the Navy Cross," Convissar stated. "I misspoke in court at the time of sentencing. I have apologized to the court for the misinformation provided on behalf of my client."
But that may not be enough to keep Searight out of hot water.
Tony Lombardo, the Times reporter who discovered the fakery after someone in Western New York contacted the publication, said he has spoken with a representative of the Niagara County District Attorney's Office and was told that an investigation will be conducted to determine whether Searight will face new charges.
When reached late Tuesday, Convissar declined to comment, but there was no question that he was apologetic. In his e-mail to the Times, he also stated:
"I deeply regret it, and I apologize to all United States Marines, active and retired, who serve and had served our country with honor, valor and with great personal sacrifice. I do thank you for bringing this to the attention of the court and myself and hope you can accept my apology."
Andrew deGrandpre, managing editor of the Times, said Convissar apparently did not double-check Searight's claims.
"While sometimes things may get missed, Convissar apparently never verified his client's paperwork," deGrandpre said. "There is a network of concerned citizens, if you will, who take it upon themselves to throw up their hands and say something is not right here.
"More often than not, if somebody is claiming military awards that they didn't earn, they will be smoked out."
Convissar said it's puzzling that individuals still try to claim military honors they never earned "in an era when everything can almost instantly be verified on the Internet or with a quick phone call."
Lombardo said that Searight will now be listed on the Times' Hall of Stolen Valor website.
Searight could not be reached to comment.