CAMDEN, N.J. A judge ordered former Atlantic City Mayor Robert Levy on Friday to serve three years' probation and pay a $5,000 fine for lying about his Vietnam War service to pad his benefits check.
During a sentencing hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Jerome Simandle also ordered Levy to repay the $25,000 in extra benefits he received as a result of the lies.
Known as the "missing mayor" because he dropped out of sight for two weeks last fall, Levy later admitted to lying about what he did in the war in order to obtain the extra veteran's benefits.
He stepped down as mayor in October after admitting his two-week absence was to attend a clinic for treatment of substance abuse and mental health issues.
During Friday's hearing, the judge said Levy unquestionably suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"This case is ultimately a sad case of human failure that was provoked and promoted by being asked as a 17-year-old to do some very difficult and dangerous duty on behalf of their country," Simandle said.
Levy, who served in the Army from 1964 until 1984, admitted fabricating stories that as a soldier in Vietnam, he had been left in the jungle for weeks along with South Vietnamese troops to fend for himself. He also claimed to have made a number of parachute jumps when he did not.
The judge said Levy continues to exaggerate his military service, specifically by saying he did work for a special operations unit called "the pathfinders," which set up drop zones during the war and made other combat preparations behind enemy lines.
Levy insisted he had done several missions with the unit even though he was not a member of it.
"I wasn't no hero, running around like Rambo," Levy said. "I was scared to death. I was running around with a radio on my back, doing the best I can."
But Simandle noted that Veterans Affairs officials interviewed commanders and members of the special unit Levy claimed to have served with, and none remembered him.
The judge said afterward that "there's no record and no recollection of his service (with the special unit) other than Mr. Levy's."
Ultimately, Simandle's ruling was more sympathetic than punitive. He repeatedly praised Levy's service, which included two tours in Vietnam that left him with serious psychological ailments that went untreated for years.
The judge said Levy continues having trouble determining what is real and what is not.
"What he went through was a crisis," the judge said. "He didn't come out of it well."
Meanwhile, the VA has stripped Levy of all his benefits, including those for physical injuries. Levy is trying to get at least those benefits and possibly others for post-traumatic stress disorder restored through a VA appeal.