Alberta man pleads guilty after posing as retired U.S. marine at Remembrance Day events

Peter Toth, 59, of Red Deer, Alta., pleaded guilty Wednesday to unlawful use of military medals and holding a false military certificate. A third charge, of wearing a fake military uniform, was dropped.

Peter Toth of Red Deer never served in military despite saying he was wounded in combat

A number of veterans attended the sentencing of Peter Toth, left, who pleaded guilty to falsely wearing medals and producing fake military documents. (Stolen Valour Canada, Reid Southwick/CBC)

Veterans are celebrating after an Alberta man pleaded guilty to pretending to be a retired U.S. marine at Remembrance Day events.

Peter Toth, 59, of Red Deer, pleaded guilty Wednesday to unlawful use of military medals and holding a false military certificate. A third charge, of wearing a fake military uniform, was dropped.

"He knows it was wrong. He accepts responsibility," duty counsel Mark Daoust told provincial court in Red Deer.

Toth was sentenced to 18 months of probation and 200 hours of community service.

'We've all lost friends'

Ten veterans attended Toth's hearing and sentencing, including Gord Swaitkewich, a spokesperson for Stolen Valour Canada, the group that first exposed the man's behaviour.

"This is very temperamental for us because every one of us has served and pretty much every one of us has seen combat at one time or another. We've all lost friends," Swaikewich told reporters after court.

"Somebody has to speak for those who can't, so we're here speaking for those who can't. For our dead and wounded."

Gord Swaitkewich, a spokesperson for Stolen Valour Canada, says he was pleased with Wednesday's ruling. (Reid Soutwick/CBC)

'No record of Mr. Toth'

Stolen Valour, which investigates suspected military or veteran imposters, found a photo showing Toth wearing rank badges in the wrong place and incorrect insignia.

The group said he claimed to have served in Iraq and was wounded in Afghanistan. He also told people he had retired in 1985, which would have been before his supposed tours took place.

"There's no record of Mr. Toth ever having served in the United States Marine Corps," Ian White of Stolen Valour Canada told CBC News at the time.

A discharge document that Peter Toth sent to Stolen Valour Canada, which the group says is highly questionable, containing errors and inconsistencies, including spelling mistakes. (Stolen Valour Canada )

White accused Toth of having a fake discharge document that contained spelling errors and a signature with mismatched dates.

A complaint was lodged with the RCMP, and an investigation was opened.

When confronted by police, Toth "readily admitted that he had no right to do what he did," Crown prosecutor Ann MacDonald told court.

These two images of Peter Toth in uniform visiting schools in Red Deer, Alta., were sent to Stolen Valour Canada by a tipster who questioned whether Toth was a former U.S. marine. (Stolen Valour Canada)

The investigation found that in November 2017, Toth posed as a former gunnery sergeant with the U.S. Marine Corps at three schools in Red Deer. MacDonald said Toth wore medals, including a Purple Heart, which is awarded to U.S. military members wounded or killed in combat. She also said the uniform he wore was not genuine.

She said he continued the charade by producing a fraudulent military service document.

Toth destroyed the medals and document, and no items were seized by police, she said.

Mental health treatment

Toth declined to speak in court or when CBC News approached him for comment.

His counsel said Toth told him that he has been going to almost daily medical appointments in relation to post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

The man, who is married with six children, has lost the respect of people he knows in Red Deer, Daoust said.

Swaikewich said he doesn't believe Toth is remorseful.

"There could be mental health issues but to make up those documents, to go out of your way and purposely buy a ragtag uniform ... is premeditation," he said. "What's driving that premeditation, I can't say."

No checks

Last fall, CBC News went to the Red Deer Catholic School Board and the Royal Canadian Legion Branch No. 35 to ask how they check the authenticity of proclaimed veterans and their stories.

The school board said it relies on the Royal Canadian Legion to make those checks, and the Legion said it doesn't have the resources to verify U.S. documents.

With files from Reid Southwick