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Ex-Marine in the Brig Over 1965 Desertion

Jerry Texiero, 65, left Camp Pendleton rather than go to Vietnam. No court date has been set.

January 07, 2006|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

A 65-year-old Florida man who deserted from Camp Pendleton Marine base in 1965 rather than go to Vietnam is being held at the brig at Camp Lejeune, N.C., after having been turned over to the Marine Corps in December.

No court date has been set for the desertion case, a Marine Corps spokesman said Friday.

Jerry Texiero, who has lived under the name Gerome Conti, came to the attention of the Marine Corps' "absentee collection center" after an FBI fingerprint match discovered the desertion charge.

Texiero's fingerprints were taken as part of his probation on a no-contest plea in the late 1990s to a charge of defrauding owners of classic cars in Tarpon Springs, Fla. He was arrested there in August after the print match was made.

The New York-based antiwar group Citizen Soldier says the Marine Corps is trying to use Texiero's case to warn Marines thinking of deserting rather than serving in Iraq.

The group also alleges that Texiero's desertion was justified because of what it calls the illegal nature of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

"I think they're punishing him before trial and setting an example for young Marines that they too have to participate in an illegal war or they'll be hunted down decades later," said Louis Font, a Massachusetts attorney working with Citizen Soldier.

A Marine Corps spokesman said Texiero's case was being handled as a routine matter. The Marine Corps has had a handful of desertion cases from the Vietnam era in recent years, many ending in discharges labeled as bad-conduct or other-than-honorable.

In 1997, for example, a 48-year-old man who deserted from Camp Pendleton in 1968 and fled to Canada was given a bad-conduct discharge. He was arrested when the desertion warrant was discovered during a routine computer check when he was crossing into the U.S.

The Texiero case is more complicated, because he was charged after he deserted with having stolen $5,400 worth of goods from the exchange at the Marine base in Barstow.

Texiero, who was a corporal, was taken to Camp Lejeune on Dec. 14 and is being held in the brig after being ruled a flight risk.

Font said that holding Texiero in the brig was punitive and that Texiero was losing weight and having trouble with his teeth and eyesight.

But a Camp Lejeune spokesman said Texiero had made no complaints and, like all prisoners, was being watched by a Navy medical corpsman.

The theft charge is being reinvestigated to see whether it will be added to the desertion charge, a spokesman said. Desertion carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison; desertion to avoid hazardous duty can bring a five-year sentence.

More than 10,000 military personnel deserted during the Vietnam War. President Ford issued a clemency order in September 1974 for those who turned themselves in, but the order lapsed in March 1975.

The Marine Corps lists 1,187 persons as having fled service unlawfully, some dating to World War II. While the service does not actively hunt them, advances in computerizing of police records have aided in the apprehension.

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