REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (KGO) -- The National Football League's Toys for Tots program is taking a big hit this holiday season because the program's organizer has been identified as a military impostor.
Now, he is apologizing to everyone he hurt in an exclusive interview with the ABC7 I-Team's Dan Noyes.
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The Redwood City Chapter of the NFL alumni Toys for Tots program is bouncing back with the help of some real marines after the man who organized the toy drive had to resign after getting caught lying about his military record.
Art Medina says he didn't think he'd ever get caught for the lies he told to so many people even though the San Jose man has seen all the stories ABC7 Investigative Reporter Dan Noyes has done on people who falsely claim to be war heroes.
For three years, Medina was the NFL's military liaison responsible for arranging color guards and fund-raisers. He has left behind angry football players and military veterans.
"I can even imagine what they would do to him when they found him," said former San Francisco 49ers' offensive tackle Allan Kennedy.
"It's just too bad he took us for a ride; he fooled a lot of people," Kennedy told Noyes.
Medina agreed to be interviewed at a location in Southern California last week where he claims he moved because of threats he has received.
"I love the military and I'm sorry," he said.
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Records obtained by the ABC7 I-Team confirm Medina made it through boot camp but dropped out of the U.S. Marine School of Infantry and deserted.
He was AWOL for almost 10 years before he was arrested. He spent weeks in the brig and received a bad conduct discharge.
"I am a Marine," Medina insists.
"You didn't earn the title, how did you earn the title," Noyes asked.
"I finished boot camp to get-that's what I meant by that."
But Medina told many people he was a staff sergeant and fought in the second battle of Fallujah-the bloodiest battle of the Iraq war where 95 Americans were killed and 560 were injured.
"You traded on the Corp's history, the sacrifice of those people. What do you want to say to those families of the real Marines who died at Fallujah," Noyes asked.
"That you earned your keep and I'm sorry," Media responded.
He used that phony story at the Marines' Memorial Club in San Francisco where a documentary filmmaker interviewed him in front of the memorial to fallen warriors.
"I see all my brothers," he said through tears during the interview.
Medina also attended social events at the Marines' Memorial Club and met prominent marines including General James "Mad Dog" Mattis, President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of defense.
The Marines' Memorial Club even gave Medina a color guard send-off for his fund-raising walk to Camp Pendleton in July but he was never a member of the organization.
During his fund-raising walk, real marines and their families honored Medina, bought the impostor meals and paid for his lodging.
Medina says he raised $6,000-money that was supposed to go to the Marines' Memorial Club event for Gold Star parents who lost a child in service to their country. It has been three months since the fundraising walk and Medina still hasn't given any donated funds to the charity.
Noyes asked him, "You raise money on their behalf, are you going to give it to them?"
"Yes, they are going to get some money," Medina said.
But when pressed for how much, "I can't say until all the taxes, the shirts," he said.
Nick Osuna is a real Marine veteran and accompanied Medina on the 565-mile hike.
Asked if Medina actually did walk the entire way, Osuna says the impostor only walked a third of the way and had his girlfriend pick him up and drive him in her car.
"He kept telling me that he had a surgery with the VA; that he had a fake heel and due to the injuries in Iraq, so he couldn't do the whole thing," Osuna said.
Medina's story began to unravel after he met Jonathan Hancock.
Hancock's cross-country trek to honor his fellow Marines who died in the battle for Ramadi is being made into a documentary. He became suspicious of Medina and did some research into his military record. Hancock blasted Medina on social media three weeks ago.
"Art Medina is a liar, he's not a real Marine, he never served in 1/3; he never served in Alpha Company," he said.
The story quickly spread and the lies Medina has been telling for years finally caught up with him. In addition to the NFL and the Marines' Memorial Club, Medina had talked his way into military parents' groups like the one U.S. Air Force Mom Lorraine Silva belonged to.
"Art told us he was suicidal," Silva said.
She invited the impostor and his friends to stay at her house on dozens of occasions. She says Medina often talked about Fallujah and gave her what he said were the ashes of his fallen brothers. Now she knows it was all a lie.
"I believe in God and to believe in God, you have to believe there is evil and Art Medina is the pure essence of it," Silva said fighting to hold back tears.
"I'm not, I'm not an evil person, I wanted to help out," Medina said.
Recently Art Medina started what he calls, "The Field of Honor Foundation". The IRS granted it non-profit status just this month-even after word came out he was a phony.
Americans looking to make charitable contributions need to be careful where they donate their money.
Medina claims he will notify the ABC7 I-Team when he finally sends a check to the Marines' Memorial Club.
On behalf of the organization, Marines' Memorial Club Director of Military and Veteran Affairs Colonel Christopher Starling, USMC (Ret.) responded to the ABC7 I-Team's inquiry about Medina in a letter. A portion of it is included below:
Thanks for carrying the banner against stolen valor.
Art Medina claimed to be a Marine. Apparently he was a deserter.
I have not seen the proof - but that is what I have been told second hand.
He has visited the club sporadically over the past year.
Many of our educational events, such as meet the author are open to the public.
So when he was here, often it was with friends, many of whom I know to be former Marines and members of MMA.
I had urged him to join, but he never joined the Marines' Memorial Club probably because he could never produce a valid DD214.
We strictly verify Veteran status and honorable discharge, with that form.
We review those closely before issuing a membership card.
We don't allow those with other than an honorable discharge to be members.
Art has never been on the payroll of Marines' Memorial.
Art has never made a monetary donation to Marines' Memorial.
He and his friend Nick Osuna (who actually was a Marine in 2d Battalion, 4th Marines) did start their hike to San Diego from our property beginning of July.
Art has not given us any proceeds from his walk.
I don't know what proceeds he was able to collect.
Anyone can string together a story, but here is the thing about Marines - it's a small Corps.
Eventually you meet someone who was in the unit you claim to have been in.
You can't fabricate people, places, times and operations.
Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but inevitably - someone was in Alpha Company, one, three...someone was in Iraq and asks you who was your Squad Leader? Your First Sergeant?...The questions start coming ... and you have no idea.... who was the Company Gunny? .... what FOB did you occupy? Were you with us at Exercise Steel Knight?, etc...etc...and then it breaks wide open.
Colonel Christopher C. Starling, USMC (Ret.)
Vice President & Chief Development Officer
Marines' Memorial Association / Marines' Memorial Foundation
I-TEAM: Marine impostor exposed for stolen valor, missing charity donations