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Rep. Wes Cooley indicted, accused of lying on voter pamphlet

December 12, 1996

SALEM, Ore. (AP) _ Rep. Wes Cooley, a GOP freshman who dropped his re-election bid earlier this year after being accused of lying about his background, was indicted on charges he falsely claimed in official state voter guides that he had served in Korea.

The 64-year-old congressman could get up to 10 years in prison and $200,000 in fines if convicted of twice making false statements.

Separately, a federal grand jury is investigating whether Cooley lied about when he got married so his wife could fraudulently continue to collect benefits as a Marine widow.

The gate to Cooley’s ranch was padlocked Wednesday and the outspoken conservative didn’t return calls. But he told Portland television station KATU Wednesday that he planned to plead innocent at his arraignment Monday.

``This is a bunch of trumped-up business,″ he said. ``I’m kind of happy now that it will finally go to court. I can guarantee you these charges are politically motivated.″

Cooley, elected to Congress in 1994 from a vast, mostly rural area that covers roughly the eastern three-quarters of Oregon, had become a major source of embarrassment for the state GOP. For a time, he refused to drop his re-election bid even when it appeared likely he would end up losing the seat to a Democrat.

Under pressure from fellow Republicans, Cooley finally gave up the fight and tearfully announced he wouldn’t seek a second term. Republican Bob Smith then came out of political retirement and easily won back his old House seat.

The indictment made public Wednesday cited two 1994 official state voter guides in which Cooley claimed to have been a member of the Army Special Forces in Korea during the war there.

Military records cited in published reports indicate that while Cooley did serve in the Army, he never left the United States during the 1950-53 war and didn’t finish his training until after the armistice was signed.

The grand jury heard testimony from Cooley’s Army buddies, his ex-wife and elections officials.

When his claim was publicly challenged, Cooley was unable to produce any evidence that it was true. He said the records were destroyed in fire.

The one man Cooley said could verify his claims was a former master sergeant, Clifford Poppy. But Poppy, 70, of Phoenix, Ariz., told the grand jury that Cooley had lied about serving in Korea.

Poppy said he is glad the grand jury indicted Cooley.

``He’s told that lie so many times, he believes it himself,″ he said. ``I was shot at and I did shoot at others in Korea. If he had ever really served in combat, he wouldn’t be bragging about it, because it is not a pleasant experience.″

Cooley, who served one term in the Legislature before being elected to Congress, has had other problems with the truth.

The first known bit of fudging on Cooley’s part came when he hauled a travel trailer across a county line in 1991 so he could establish residency and run for the state Senate. After his election, he moved back to his ranch in an adjacent county, earning the nickname ``Wandering Wes.″

In his 1994 campaign for Congress, Cooley admitted he wrongly claimed he belonged to Phi Beta Kappa, the elite academic honor society. An ``honest mistake,″ he said at the time, adding that he was referring to another, much less prestigious, honors group at a community college.

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