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Former congressman found guilty of lying about military service in Korea

March 18, 1997

SALEM, Ore. (AP) _ Former U.S. Rep. Wes Cooley was found guilty today of lying to voters about serving with the Army in Korea during the war when he never even left the United States.

Cooley, 64, accepted an agreement with prosecutors because he never had to admit he lied, won’t spend time in jail and can expunge the conviction from his record after three years, said his attorney, Walter Todd.

``Mr. Cooley took this deal because he is tired of fighting,″ Todd said. ``He did not want to spend his retirement years in court.″

Cooley initially was charged with two counts of lying in official documents; one count was dropped as part of the agreement.

He did not enter a plea before Circuit Judge Albin Norblad found him guilty and sentenced him to two years’ probation. He also was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and pay $7,110 in fines and court costs.

Cooley, a Republican who served one term in Congress, listed ``Army, Special Forces, Korea,″ among his qualifications for candidacy in the 1994 voters’ guide for the primary and general elections.

Various documents and witnesses showed that Cooley never served in Korea, Assistant State Attorney General Byron Chatfield said.

Cooley could have faced up to 10 years in prison and $200,000 in fines if he had been convicted at trial, which was scheduled to start in April.

Retired Army Sgt. Clifford Poppy, who was identified by Cooley as his commanding officer in Korea, had testified earlier that the ex-congressman never served overseas. He vaguely remembered Cooley serving under him as a trainee at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Poppy, who did serve in Korea, said today that the sentence was far too light.

Cooley’s legal problems aren’t over. A federal grand jury in Portland is investigating whether his wife improperly received veterans’ benefits while the two lived together before they were married.

A grand jury indicted Cooley in December after a state Department of Justice investigation into his voters’ guide statements. Military records show Cooley never left the United States while serving in the Army during the 1950-53 Korean War.

Cooley, who lives on a central Oregon ranch, was elected to represent the 2nd Congressional District in 1994 to replace longtime U.S. Rep. Bob Smith, who campaigned heavily for Cooley and was widely credited for helping his election.

But, under pressure from Smith and other GOP leaders after the scandal, Cooley dropped his re-election bid last year and left office Jan. 2.

Smith returned from retirement to easily win the seat last November.

Update hourly