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June 21--Note to would-be military impersonators -- the American flag patch should be right side up.
Kenpetch Manasmontri learned that lesson the hard way, according to court records, as he is now headed to federal prison for 30 days for trying to glean a break on traffic tickets by posing as a soldier.
Greeneville U.S. Magistrate Dennis Inman this week sentenced Manasmontri, 33, after he pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to a federal charge of wearing a military uniform without authorization during a September 2013 court appearance on three misdemeanor traffic citations.
Manasmontri's woes began in April 2013 when U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Kimberly Coleman stopped him at a checkpoint in the Cherokee National Forest and discovered he wasn't wearing a seat belt and couldn't produce a valid driver's license or proof of insurance on the Kia he was driving.
Federal court records state Manasmontri tried to curry favor with Coleman by saying he was headed "to the police academy so he could work for the Bristol (Va.) Police Department."
Coleman, however, had learned Manasmontri's driver's license had been suspended.
"She told him that the most important thing he could do would be to work toward getting his driver's license reinstated," a plea agreement stated.
Coleman issued Manasmontri three traffic citations, which were to be handled in federal court because the violations occurred in a national park. After repeatedly delaying his court appearance, Manasmontri finally appeared in Greeneville U.S. District Court in September 2013.
"On that date, he appeared dressed in camouflage military battle dress uniform ... (with a) cloth tab with his last named sewed on it (attached with Velcro) on his uniform," Assistant U.S. Attorney Christian Lampe wrote in the plea agreement. "He had unit insignia on his blouse and was wearing matching pants, belt and boots."
Lampe "thanked him for his service" and asked Manasmontri if he would "lose rank if he went to jail for the driving while suspended or revoked charge," the document stated. "Manasmontri said he thought he would."
Lampe was sympathetic, talking to the uniform-clad Manasmontri about the difficulties of integrating back into civilian society.
"(Manasmontri) then went on to say that he had seen terrible things during his deployment," Lampe wrote.
As it turned out, someone else was watching the exchange between the two men. Veterans Affairs Police Officer Ernest King happened to be in the same courtroom and noticed something disturbing about Manasmontri's uniform. The American flag patch on the right shoulder "was perfectly and solidly affixed upside down," the plea agreement stated.
"(Manasmontri) seemed surprised and replied that it must have happened in the dryer and hurried to change it," the document stated.
It was too late, though. With just a few more queries, King determined Manasmontri was no soldier.
"(Manasmontri) admits that he pretended to be a soldier in an attempt to receive a more favorable outcome in his case," Lampe wrote.
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