Man who posed as miltiary officer in fraud scheme pleads guilty

A 60-year-old man who posed as a military officer and solicited funds he said would be used to help wounded veterans pleaded guilty today in Los Angeles to federal fraud charges.

James Kent Barbee, who at the time of the offenses lived in Carpinteria and now lives in Pacific Grove, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to a felony count of mail fraud and a misdemeanor count of unlawfully wearing a military uniform, according to Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Appearing before U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee, Barbee admitted he set up the Liberty Spirit Farm Foundation in Missouri and later moved it to the Santa Ynez Valley, using it to solicit $94,130 from people who were told their money would be used to help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Mrozek said.

Instead of using donations to help veterans, Barbee used significant amounts of the money for personal expenses, according to Mrozek.

"The harm from Barbee's conduct is that it weakens the public's confidence in legitimate charitable organizations and is a disgrace to the honor of all who have served in the armed forces of this great nation,'' said Richard Gwin of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service.

In addition to claiming that Liberty Spirit was affiliated with Vandenberg Air Force Base, Barbee claimed to be an active-duty commander in the U.S. Navy, Mrozek said.

While Barbee did serve in the military in 1969, he falsely told donors that he had been on active duty for the past 40 years, according to Mrozek.

Barbee also maintained a page on MySpace.com, in which he falsely claimed to be a Navy Commander and a military physician, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

According to Mrozek, Barbee maintained a Web site that urged potential contributors to make donations for veterans with entreaties such as: "How much is a wounded soldier worth in dollars and cents?''

During the course of the scheme, Barbee collected $94,130 from people in Missouri and the counties of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Barbee is scheduled to be sentenced by Gee on Oct. 18, at which time he faces a statutory maximum sentence of 20 1/2 years in federal prison, Mrozek said.