Veterans say pretending to be a Navy Seal is an insult to all those men who earned the title, to those who died serving their country and to their families. But this also became an issue of trust between a school principal, his students and his superintendent.
George Berg thought it would be a routine matter -- he objected to a book assigned to his son, a sophomore at Rohnert Park's Technology High School, because it contained explicit descriptions of child sexual abuse. Any parent has the right to opt out and ask for their child to read another book.
But the principal, 47 year-old Bruce Mims, continued to push Berg's son to read the book and the conversation took an odd turn.
"Principal Mims brought up his prior military service and something to the effect of that you never forget the smell of dead bodies," Berg said. "When my son told me this, it sent all sorts of red flares up."
Berg is a combat veteran of the first Gulf War. He's been a police officer for 15 years and he began his research. On Mims' Linked-in page, Berg saw that the principal bounced from position to position -- five schools in the past eight years. And under experience, Mims claimed he was a lieutenant in the United States Navy for more than five years.
Berg: "A member of the special warfare operations units. And..."
Noyes: "Which translates to Navy SEALs."
Berg: "Which to me translates to Navy SEALs."
In fact, one article about Mims being fired from LA Unified listed him as "a former Navy SEAL".
Next stop for Berg's research -- the ABC7 News I-Team page. He saw several stories we've done exposing phony SEALs and he saw our interviews with Don Shipley, a retired Navy SEAL who runs a training camp in Virginia. Shipley also has a YouTube channel exposing the impostors and he has access to the official SEAL database.
"There's fewer than 10,000 of us in 70 years that are alive, walking this planet," said Shipley. "But there is no shortage of clowns out there that would steal that and for profit, to gain respect, to intimidate people, they'll tell you they're a SEAL."
Berg asked Shipley if Mims was, in fact, a Navy SEAL. Shipley's answer? "A very quick check of the SEAL database and no. He was not."
Noyes asked Berg, "When you heard those words, what was your reaction?"
Berg answered, "If, in fact, he was claiming to be a Navy SEAL and he was distorting what the truth was, what else would he be willing to distort?"
Berg took his concerns to school superintendent Robert Haley, himself a Marine Corps veteran.
Dan asked Haley, "Did Mims talk about being a Navy SEAL around the office to colleagues or friends?"
Haley confirmed, "Yes, he did."
Confronted with his lie, Mims was allowed to resign from Tech High -- no mention of the Navy SEAL controversy in the local papers. Mims just cited "personal and professional reasons". But after many phone conversations, emails and texts, Mims agreed to do something most phony Navy SEALs refuse to do -- sit down and answer questions about why he did it.
"A lack of self-worth and sprinkled with ego and arrogance is a toxic brew. It makes you act irrationally," Mims explained. He also said two factors drove him to exaggerate his military record. One was being adopted. He could never find his biological parents. The other factor was getting kicked out of the Navy after just one year, for being gay.
Noyes: "Do you understand the concept of stolen valor?"
Noyes: "What do you say to the families of someone who died serving as a Navy SEAL?"
Mims: "Like I said, I don't think there's anything else I can say, except my act, I truly regret making inaccurate statements."
Berg and other parents are satisfied Mims is no longer has contact with their kids, but they question why he's staying on the payroll with a $96,000 a year salary through this coming June.
The I-Team spoke to Robert Haley, the superintendent of the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District.
Haley: "At the moment, he is working on special projects for the district."
Noyes: "What kind of special projects?"
Haley: "The special projects at this point are staying in touch with the superintendent."
Noyes: "So, he's got to call you every day?"
Haley: "At this point, we have communicated several times."
The superintendent tells us allowing Mims to resign is much cheaper for the district, than what it would take to fire him. Mims insists his decision to step down had nothing to do with getting caught pretending to be a Navy SEAL. He says he needs to spend more time with his partner, his children and his mother.
Mims told Noyes he wants to "try to get on with living [his] life in a better way, a more honest way."
Like so many of our investigations, this one began with a tip. If you know someone who is profiting from their tales of being a Navy SEAL, email the I-Team through our website, reach Dan Noyes on Facebook or call 1-888-40-I-TEAM.