Service under scrutiny

SENTINEL FILE PHOTO Shon R. Wilson, an Army and Navy veteran who lives in Grand Junction, received his service dog, Rommy, in 2014. Wilson is a contract worker for the Office of the Alternate Defense Counsel and worked until mid-June as both an investigator and a weapons expert on a first-degree murder case. In late July, the Guardians of the Green Beret disputed Wilson's resume reference to Special Forces training and said he had never even applied for the program.

A Grand Junction private investigator accused by a military watchdog group of falsely claiming to have served in the U.S. Army's elite Green Beret forces has refused to either defend or denounce the resume in which he originally made the claim.

Allegations leveled by the Guardians of the Green Beret against 43-year-old Shon R. Wilson arose this summer over a resume Wilson submitted as a consultant on a first-degree murder case in Mesa County that claimed he had completed Special Forces training.

The terms "Green Beret" and "Special Forces" are interchangeable and refer exclusively to an elite force in the U.S. Army. The broader term "Special Operations Forces" encompasses both the Green Berets and other elite forces like Navy SEALs and Army Rangers.

Wilson, an Army and Navy veteran, said in an interview Monday the fact that no Special Forces-type training appears on his military record doesn't mean he never completed the training; that he can't talk about whether he in fact completed Green Beret training; and that his mistake was succumbing to what he described as pressure by the defense attorney on the case to include Special Forces references on his resume.

"There's things that are not on my record, and that is all the way through my whole service," Wilson said. "I'm not supporting that I'm Special Forces. I'm not putting that out there. … I put it on one CV (curriculum vitae) that went out to somebody, and then that was it."

When asked directly whether he was Special Forces-qualified, Wilson would not answer.

"I can't discuss that," he said.

Steve Antson, a representative of the Guardians of the Green Beret, said Special Forces training would have shown up on public records and in private military databases. Antson said he stands behind his group's claims "100 percent."

"This claim of classified stuff is absolutely ludicrous," Antson said. "I know beyond any doubt he was not a Green Beret."

The defense attorney in the murder case, Steve Laiche, denied pressuring Wilson to add any information to his resume.

The Guardians of the Green Beret is a network of current and former Special Forces soldiers who investigate people suspected of falsely claiming to have been a Green Beret.

Background

Wilson, a contract worker for the Office of the Alternate Defense Counsel, worked until mid-June as both an investigator and a weapons expert on the first-degree murder case of Israel Massingill.

Massingill was 20 when he was arrested last year in connection with the shooting death of 17-year-old Kiera Quintana of Whitewater. Massingill, who faces life in prison if convicted, was originally scheduled to go to trial this month.

Several weeks after Wilson quit Massingill's defense team in June, Laiche asked the presiding judge to delay the case because a then-unnamed member of his team was suspected of padding his resume.

In late July, the Guardians of the Green Beret identified the person as Wilson, and posted a curriculum vitae provided by Laiche's office that Wilson submitted in connection to Massingill's case. The resume listed among other qualifications "Successful completion of Army Special Forces course as Weapons Specialist/Engineer," and "Successful completion of Army Special Forces Sniper and Counter-Sniper courses."

The Guardians of the Green Beret referred to Wilson as a "fake Green Beret," and alleged that he not only never completed Special Forces training, but never even applied for the program.

Public records

According to records obtained by The Daily Sentinel from the National Personnel Records Center, Wilson served in the military in various capacities between 1993 and 2007. He served in the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Army and the Army National Guard. He earned multiple commendations, including a 2005 Army Commendation Medal for his role during Operation Iraqi Freedom, the military term for the Bush-era Iraq War.

Wilson in 2014 spoke to The Daily Sentinel about his experience during the war for an article about his service dog Rommy, who was obtained through a program funded by a foundation started by NFL wide receiver Eric Decker to help injured veterans. Wilson described to a reporter being aboard a Humvee in Baghdad in 2004 when a car bomb exploded.

While military records show Wilson was decorated multiple times and underwent multiple training courses, no records obtained by the Sentinel reference Special Forces-specific training, completion of airborne or sniper training, or military job description codes that are assigned to Special Forces soldiers.

'Huge red flags'

Antson said in an interview that, in addition to publicly available information, the Guardians of the Green Beret vet suspected Special Forces "posers" through a number of back-channel methods.

Antson said when his group is approached with information about someone who has potentially fabricated a claim to be a Special Forces soldier, they first look at information the purported soldier has put out about themselves. Members then turn to a private social media page to ask other Green Berets whether they know the soldier personally — the relatively small number of people who have completed Special Forces training makes it difficult to find a Green Beret who can't be vouched for personally.

Guardians of the Green Beret then submit a Freedom of Information Act request to the records center for publicly available information.

Finally, if the group has found any contradictory information, they check with people Antson refers to as "our friends at Fort Bragg" — colleagues still in the service who can check the original source of the records.

Antson said he noticed "huge red flags" in Wilson's resume; that no former Green Berets in the social media group mentioned knowing him personally; that his publicly available service record did not include references to Special Forces-specific training; and that current Fort Bragg personnel had informed his organization that Wilson neither applied for nor completed training required to become a Green Beret.

Special Forces training is undergone at the Fort Bragg base in North Carolina. None of Wilson's publicly available military records reference posting at that base, and the Sentinel was not able to independently verify whether Wilson ever applied for Special Forces training.

Wilson said he has "been at Fort Bragg," but that he can't talk about what he did there.

Airborne training, or "jump school," would be a prerequisite to entrance to Special Forces, and is obtained at Fort Benning, Georgia, according to goarmy.com. None of Wilson's publicly available military records reference training obtained at the base south of Atlanta.

When asked when he obtained airborne training, Wilson responded, "I couldn't tell you."

"We're not going to talk about that stuff," he said. "I'm not claiming any of that."

Antson said Wilson's claim doesn't make sense.

"Jump school is 1,000 percent not classified," Antson said.

Antson also disputes Wilson's claim in his resume to be a Special Forces-trained sniper.

Records obtained by the Sentinel don't reference sniper training, and Wilson refused to say where he obtained sniper training, or whether he stands by the assertion in his resume.

Wilson also refused to provide contact information for any soldiers he served with or supervisors he worked under who could verify his resume. He also made a reference to non-disclosure agreements that are "out there," though he didn't elaborate.

Wilson said it's provable that not all his training is listed in public records. When asked why people should believe his side of the story given that he has no documentation to back it up, Wilson responded, "I don't care if people believe my side of the story."

"I'm not running around and, you know, gaining off of anything," he said. "I am a soldier that served my country."

'He knew exactly where to strike'

While Wilson refused to defend his CV, he also claimed that it wasn't his idea to include Special Forces training on it. He alleged that Laiche knew about his background and asked him to add more training information to it in preparation for Massingill's case.

Wilson claimed he left Massingill's team for other, undisclosed reasons, and Laiche in return forwarded his name along to the Guardians of the Green Beret. Wilson said he told Laiche he didn't have paperwork to back up his resume, but Laiche encouraged him to include the information anyway.

"He knew exactly where to strike after I left the case," Wilson said.

Laiche denied asking Wilson to add Special Forces information to his resume.

"Why would I need to have someone make something up?" Laiche asked. "We'll find someone who's qualified."

Antson also denied Wilson's version of events.

"You know why there's no record? Because it's not true," Antson said. "There are secret missions. There are not secret Green Berets."

Wilson didn't explain how Laiche would have heard about his Special Forces background if he were bound by non-disclosure agreements and security issues.

Wilson also said there are other issues with Massingill's case, and that his resume wasn't the only issue that caused the delay. He declined to elaborate any further, citing confidentiality rules.

Non-military claims

Several other claims on Wilson's resume — provided independently to the Sentinel by Laiche's office — could not be verified. While his CV listed him as a National Rifle Association-certified firearms instructor specifically for a course termed "Basic Firearms Safety in the Home," Wilson's name does not appear anywhere on the NRA's website. Additionally, the site doesn't list a course by that name.

Wilson said he was certified by the NRA in 1997 or 1998, that he taught classes in Fall River Mills, California, and that he doesn't know how long such certifications last.

He listed membership in The Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners; however, his name does not appear on the group's certified members roster.

"That's because I'm not any kind of full member or anything," Wilson said, adding that membership involves "stages" and he is at the beginning stage.

Wilson also lists membership in the International Ballistics Society; the group's U.S. point of contact, Michael Murphy, wrote in an email Monday that Wilson is not currently a group member.

Wilson said while he similarly is an early stage member in the group, Murphy's assertion that he isn't a member "doesn't make sense."

Lastly, Wilson claimed membership in the International Wound Ballistics Association and in the United States Concealed Carry Association. The International Wound Ballistics Association does not appear to have an active website. Wilson said the group is in existence and he listed it because he applied for membership, although he has not heard yet whether he has been accepted. Records for concealed carry permits aren't open record unless they are part of a criminal investigation, according to the Mesa County Sheriff's Office; however, Wilson showed a Sentinel reporter what appeared to be a concealed carry certificate.

Professional impact

The full effect of the Guardians of the Green Beret's allegations on Wilson's career is not yet clear. Wilson said he has worked as a private investigator for the last year, and has served as a weapons expert on cases for five or six years.

Laiche said he has raised the issue of Wilson's resume with the Office of the Alternate Defense Counsel, the publicly funded organization that Wilson works for on some cases, including Massingill's.

Office head Lindy Frolich did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations, and her office has yet to respond to a public records request for payments made to Wilson in recent years. It's not clear how the office vetted Wilson's background before placing him on a list of experts. The organization also contracts with Wilson's wife, local defense attorney Carisa Acker. Wilson denied that his wife's position had anything to do with his association with the organization.

While Wilson admitted that the case does pose an issue to his credibility, he said he plans to continue working as a criminal defense investigator. He said "99 percent of the time, you don't go to trial" on cases, and he doesn't believe if he is called to testify that he would be cross-examined about an old CV. He said the Alternate Defense Counsel is "fully behind me."

Wilson's attorney, Marna Lake, added during the interview that she doesn't believe the allegations have anything to do with Wilson's qualifications as a weapons expert.

"That doesn't affect the fact that he knows more about firearms than most people do," Lake said.

Personal impact

Wilson referred to allegations from Guardians of the Green Beret as "attacks."

"Some of this is making me look like I'm, you know, this evil, lying … guy and that's not who I am," Wilson said.

Wilson alleged there have been threats made to people around him, but refused to say what form the threats took. However, he said he has no plans to take legal action against the organization.

"It's on a miniscule website, you know, that 99.9 percent of the country doesn't even know about," Wilson said. "I don't care, because that little website's not going to affect my life."

Laiche said he has no reason to doubt the Guardians of the Green Berets' claims and said the issue could have had a massive impact on Massingill's case.

"We're all supposed to be brothers in this defense community," Laiche said. "What am I supposed to do when this guy is not who he says he is (and) we're in the middle of a first-degree murder trial of a 20-year-old?"

Laiche said the issue won't only impact Massingill.

"How do the Quintanas feel on this?" Laiche asked of the 17-year-old victim's family. "First they're suffering something a parent should never suffer, and now this thing's all blowing up again."