Veterans organization suspends local chapter over stolen valor allegations

Steve Garrison The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Military Order of the Purple Heart suspended its Farmington chapter in the spring after allegations surfaced that chapter officer David Shrum misappropriated funds and made false claims about his military record.

Steve Rose, a former state commander of the order, told The Daily Times he confronted Shrum in March over "outlandish" claims of valor made by the 68-year-old Blanco man.

Rose said Shrum, himself a former commander of the New Mexico order, provided him a "DD Form 214," or military discharge form, listing more than a dozen medals Shrum claimed to have been awarded while serving in the U.S. Army.

Shrum claims on the DD 214, provided to The Daily Times by the military order, that he received the bronze star, a Distinguished Flying Cross and a Silver Star, prestigious medals given to soldiers for heroism or gallantry in military action.

However, according to Shrum's military records, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request sent to the federal National Archives and Records Administration, Shrum received no awards for heroism.

According to the records, Shrum is not even a Purple Heart recipient, a requirement to become a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

David Shrum was contacted by The Daily Times in late July. He denied all allegations made against him and referred specific questions to his attorney, Arlon Stoker.

Arlon Stoker said, due to the allegations of fraud, he advised his client not to comment.

"Dave has always looked for the easy way out and has been scamming people his entire life," David Shrum's brother, Ken Shrum, said in an interview. "This is just the longest term one he has pulled and it's just wrong the way he is doing it."

Ken Shrum and the youngest of three brothers, Bill Shrum, described in interviews a man who contrasts sharply with David Shrum's public persona of a longtime local veterans' rights activist known affectionately to many people in the area as "Doc Shrum."

Ken and Bill Shrum claimed in interviews that their brother has a long history as a con artist and has served time in federal prison for fraud.

Pete Comstock, another former commander of the order, said he referred David Shrum's questionable DD 214 form to the Department of Veteran Affairs' Office of Inspector General to investigate for possible criminal wrongdoing.

Comstock said a federal investigator told him David Shrum is currently under investigation by the office for fraudulently claiming 100 percent disability.

"He claims 100 percent disability, because of (post-traumatic stress disorder), and it's a lie," Comstock said. "He has been receiving $3,000 a month for a long, long time and he shouldn't have been."

The federal investigator was reached by telephone but declined to comment on Shrum.

FBI spokesman Frank Fisher also said his bureau cannot confirm or deny that there is an active investigation in the matter.

Comstock and Rose further claim that Shrum used his position with the order to con community members out of thousands of dollars to build a trout pond on his property in Blanco.

"He used his position and his status as a decorated war hero to claim, I would say, dupe, people out of money," Rose said. "I think he raised $10,000 from the locals there in Farmington."

The Daily Times wrote about the pond, which Shrum said would help local veterans relax, in August 2010.

Comstock said, as far as he was aware, Shrum did not steal any money directly from the state organization, but claims Farmington chapter money was misspent.

Shrum specifically denied those charges in his short conversation with The Daily Times.

According to the disputed DD 214, David Shrum enlisted in the U.S. Army on September 10, 1964, after graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School in Denver, Colo.

"That's not correct," Ken Shrum said. "He graduated in June 1965 and spent the summer basically doing nothing, looking for easy ways to make some money. He didn't find it, so he joined the military."

Federal records confirm that an 18-year-old David Shrum enlisted in the U.S. Army in September 1965.

Ken and Bill Shrum are also military veterans.

Ken Shrum said he served in all four branches of the military with active duty, reserve and U.S. Army National Guard service during a 32-year career.

"I signed up partly because of family tradition of serving," Ken Shrum said. "I graduated from high school in '67 and did a year in college. During that year of college, I was so fed up with the anti-war, draft-dodging of the time, that I didn't want to deal with that aspect of college, so I joined the Navy."

Bill Shrum said he served stateside as a communications specialist for the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1975.

Bill Shrum also talked about the family tradition of military service.

Their father, Ivan Shrum, was a World War II veteran who served in the China-Burma-India theater of operations and was an active member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars for 60 years until his death in 2011.

Ken Shrum said he served at various times as post, district and state commander in the Colorado VFW.

David Shrum provided a similar reason for joining the military in an article published in the Journal of Dental Technology in May 2007.

David Shrum claimed in the journal article, available online, that he left medical school when the Vietnam War started and enlisted in the Army, "because that is what we do in my family."

He also claimed in the article that he was serving in Vietnam as a certified dental technician during his second tour of duty when a helicopter he was a passenger in was shot down, leaving him with a "broken neck, broken back, both legs blown up and six inches of right arm shot off."

However, nothing in the federal records supports that claim.

The records indicate that David Shrum graduated in November 1965 from basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri and then received training as a dental lab specialist in San Antonio, Texas.

According to David Shrum's DD 214, he completed jungle warfare and airborne school at some point before deployment as well, but federal records show no such training.

"When was the last time you seen them send a dentist to airborne school?" Bill Shrum said. "Let's throw them from the plane and make some false teeth."

David Shrum was stationed in Okinawa beginning in June 1966 and remained there until the completion of active duty, federal records state.

"That is where he tried his first scam," Ken Shrum said.

He said David Shrum told their father that he was serving in Vietnam, not Okinawa.

With his foreign war service requirement met, Ivan Shrum filed paperwork on his son's behalf so he could be admitted into the VFW, Ken Shrum said.

"The state commander then came down and told (our father) that it was not true," he said. "It made him look kind of foolish."

David Shrum finished active duty in September 1968 and reenlisted in February 1971, according to federal records.

David Shrum served in Vietnam with the 56th Dental Detachment from April 14, 1971, to Feb. 21, 1972, according to federal records.

He received additional dental training upon his return to the United States and was redeployed to Germany in December 1973.

"That is when he was involved in an automobile accident and was injured," Ken Shrum said.

David Shrum's DD 214 indicates that he suffered gunshot wounds to his spine and knees.

However, his brothers said he was involved in a drunken driving crash in 1976.

"He was drunk driving his vehicle on base and was hit by an army truck," Ken Shrum said.

According to federal records, Shrum received a "general discharge" from the army, which is a separation from the military of an officer whose military record is not sufficiently meritorious to warrant an honorable discharge.

Ken and Bill Shrum said their brother settled in Grand Junction, Colo., after the military, but was "run out of town" after selling bogus insurance plans to family friends.

"He was collecting premiums for insurance, but was not turning them in to the insurance companies," Ken Shrum claimed. "The first time somebody tried to file a claim, it ended up he had no policy."

Ken Shrum said their parents had to pay the friends back.

Ken Shrum further claimed his brother became involved in a larger investment scheme in 1986 and was indicted in federal court for securities fraud.

According to an Oct. 11, 1986, article in the Rocky Mountain News, David Shrum and a co-conspirator were accused of defrauding seven elderly investors out of at least $333,870 through a company called Consolidated Marketing Associates, Inc.

The state claimed Shrum and the co-conspirator "squandered" funds on an improbable scheme involving the brokerage of gold left in the Phillipines by former President Ferdinand Marcos, the article states.

"We've closed a transaction overseas, and we are waiting on funds to come over and when that is done, our people will be paid off," David Shrum told the Rocky Mountain News. "There's never been any intention of defrauding anybody."

Ken Shrum said his brother was convicted of fraud and served two years in federal prison in South Dakota.

That claim could not be verified, however. A clerk for the U.S. District Court of Colorado in Denver said criminal records from the era were archived only in microfiche.

David Shrum was again indicted in federal court in June 1996 for wire fraud, according to federal court records.

He pleaded guilty to bank larceny and accessory after the fact to misdemeanor bank larceny and was sentenced to one year in prison followed by a year of supervised release.

David Shrum was released from federal prison in June 1997 and, according to his brothers, relocated to Farmington.

"You can't imagine the pain his lies have caused," Bill Shrum said.

Ken Shrum added, "It's always about the money."

According to the New Mexico Military Order of the Purple Heart website, David Shrum served as state commander of the nonprofit from 2002 to 2004.

David Shrum also served as vice president of the Blanco Water Association Board in 2004, according to The Daily Times archives.

In June 2007, David Shrum founded a domestic nonprofit in New Mexico, Senior DentCare, which sought private grants to fund construction and operation of a clinic that would provide dentures to the uninsured, according to The Daily Times archives.

David Shrum said he was seeking donations to build a $1.2 million nonprofit, the archives state, which would require $4.2 million annually for operations.

"For once we (the doctors) wouldn't have to worry about insurance," he told The Daily Times. "The clinic is just for them."

David Shrum told The Daily Times for this article that there was never any money raised for the project.

"We were looking into it at one point, but there was never anything further with it," he said.

According to state records, the nonprofit's license remained active until June 2010, when it was revoked for nonfiling.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.