Sham Navy SEAL fakes combat heroics to steal disability

Claimed trauma and Silver Star medal, yet never served in military

2020 Hall of Shame

What a hero, Richard Meleski bleated about his harrowing combat exploits as a Navy SEAL in Beirut, Lebanon. 

“18 hr hostile takeover. Became POW, during this tour. Beaten, shot, head injury, tortured. Hospitalized in Germany for injuries sustained. Crushed hand. Shrapnel,” the Chalfont, Pa. man wrote in applying for more than $300,000 of federal veteran medical benefits. 

Meleski claimed post-traumatic stress disorder and wounds he supposedly incurred while fighting terrorists in the 1980s. 

Insisting he couldn’t work anymore, Meleski invented the elaborate fairytale to steal nearly $300,000 in healthcare and prescription medicines from the Veterans Administration. His haul included monthly disability checks.

It’s called Stolen Valor — inventing or embellishing military service — only this time with a bogus disability twist. 

Silver Star shakedown

In fact, Meleski never served a day in the military. He lived in New Jersey during his claimed Beirut heroics.

Meleski took pains to invent convincing details. He injured his left knee jumping out of a window while carrying a dead SEAL comrade on his back, he said. He also suffered a serious brain injury when he jumped through the window. 

The ordeal was so traumatic that Meleski couldn’t speak for three months though he did earn the Silver Star medal for gallantry in combat, he insisted. 

As a seeming former POW supposedly suffering from PTSD, Meleski was given priority for medical treatment over real veterans who urgently needed healthcare for their own military injuries. He received free treatment with no copays or premiums while true vets waited in line.

To lend his made-up story credibility, Meleski’s disability claim included the obituaries of real Navy SEALs he falsely claimed he served with.

Convicted of arson

Meleski actually lived in New Jersey during his purported Beirut heroics. He carved a trail of arson crimes along the way. Meleski was convicted four times, receiving 19 years total in prison. In one case, he set fire to a home where a priest and nuns devoted their lives to solitary prayer.

Up to 68 years in federal prison await Meleski when he’s sentenced. 

“Meleski faked a record as a decorated U.S. Navy SEAL in order to steal numerous forms of compensation,” U.S. Attorney William McSwain said. 

“Everything about this case is profoundly offensive. Our veterans fought for the freedoms we hold dear, and we owe them a debt that we can never fully repay. But holding individuals like Meleski accountable for their crimes is one small way that we can honor our veterans’ service.”