Edited by Chuck Hardin.
Steve Bennest is the owner and Master Chief Instructor of Bennest Karate School in Edgewood, Wa., claiming the rank of Judan 10th Dan in Shotokan Karate, as well as black belts in several other martial arts.
Bennest also claimed extensive military experience and commendations that were proven to be fraudulent in a Tacoma, Washington court. On December 17th, 2008, under the Stolen Valor Act, he pled guilty to a federal charge of making false claims of military medals and decorations. On March 17, 2009, he was sentenced to 24 months probation, community service and mandatory participation in a U.S. Probation program known as "Moral Reconation Therapy."
Bennest first came to the attention of Bullshido members in January 2005 through the many extravagant claims and eccentric design of his school’s website. The school claimed to teach an incredibly diverse range of arts: firearms and detective training, rock climbing, and SAR (search and rescue). Other atypical activities included issuing black belts in Tae Bo, taking students on "ninja campouts," and offering classes in "Samurai Poker."
In February 2008, Bullshido member VGA Disciple, who claimed to have studied with Bennest between 1990-92 at his now-defunct "Shadow Warriors" school in Tacoma, Wa., began a thread in which he asserted that Bennest had claimed to be able to teach Shotokan Karate, JuJitsu, Koga-Ryu, Ninjutsu, Hapkido, Aikido, Judo, Iaido, Kenjutsu, and a variety of weapons. Additional posters stated that Bennest had claimed to possess at least eight black belts in various styles.
Steve Bennest made a number of claims of high martial arts rank on his school's page:
- 10th Degree Black Belt in Shotokan Karate.
- 9th Degree Black Belt in Aiki Jujitsu.
- 7th Degree Black Belt in Aikido.
- 6th Degree Black Belt in Koga Ryu Ninjutsu.
- 5th Degree Black Belt in Iaido.
- 5th Degree Black Belt in Japanese Kobudo.
- 3rd Degree Black Belt in Bojutsu
As Bullshido member Matt Stone pointed out, the Shotokan claim alone "means he’s higher ranked than all the Japanese Shotokan senior yundansha, none of whom are ranked over 9th dan and who are all in their 60s, 70s or older."
Bennest seems to have promoted himself through his position as head of the "Washington Karate Federation," one of several entities that were entirely his own creation.
From late 1993 until 1995, Bennest worked as a part-time reserve office with the Pacific Police Department, a small town about 25 miles south of Seattle, during which period he headed the Pacific Police narcotics team. According to a report in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, although "Bennest served only part time and as a reserve officer, he was the creator and commander of Pacific’s so-called Pac-Man Narcotics Team. With only eight full-time officers, including the chief, Pacific’s Police Department relied heavily on the help of 22 volunteer reserves."1
In 1995, Bennest was charged with six counts of second-degree perjury, accused of falsifying his credentials in order to obtain search warrants for drug investigations, having told judges under oath that he had five years prior experience as a full-time Tacoma Police office, "when in actuality, three of those years were spent as an auxiliary officer."2 At issue was whether or not Bennest had committed perjury by identifying himself as a detective, and whether or not his aggregation of full and part-time police work constituted misrepresentation.
Pierce County set a trial date of January 24th, 1996, but all charges were dismissed with prejudice less than a week before the trial after prosecutors said that they lacked sufficient proof that Bennest intentionally lied about his police experience.3 Nearby King County had already decided not to charge Bennest the month before. Bennest was therefore cleared of perjury.
However, a subsequent three-month study of the Pacific Police force conducted by an independent police-management consultancy firm uncovered a string of abuses, including violated wiretapping laws, missing evidence, abusing paid overtime, and purchasing a high-powered sniper rifle "for which there is no clear need".4 The drugs unit was closed down after Bennest and two other members of the team "were discovered with several others decked out in camouflage suits playing war games" near Mount Ranier National Park. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "a Forest Service ranger was seriously hurt when he picked up an explosive booby trap the group had planted on the perimeter of the camp."5
Bennest would later claim that he had attained the rank of "Police Captain" while serving with the police, but as there is no evidence to support this claim, Bullshido concludes that it is false.
War games seem to have held a special appeal for Mr. Bennest, as while information regarding his supposed military service had been removed from his own websites by June 2008, according to the charges archived at P.O.W Network, he falsely claimed to have served in the following units and regiments:
- Navy SEAL
- Green Berets (1969)
- 10th Special Forces Group (1970)
- 5th Special Forces Group MACVSOG with 41st Rangers in Moc Hoa
- US Coast Guard Reserves
- California Army National Guard
According to the POW Network, Bennest also claimed to have been awarded the following honors:
- Silver Star
- Bronze Star with Valor
- Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster
- Combat Infantryman Badge with star
- Army Commendation Medal
- Parachute Badge
- Vietnam Service medal
Although Bennest did serve in the military between 1969 and 1972, the vast majority of his claims were untrue. Steve Pennington, also known as Bullshido member gunfighter, conducted his own investigation of Bennest and discovered that he had been in Vietnam in 1971 as a Radio Teletype Operator where he was "injured in a non hostile accident where he received burns to his leg and was shipped home".
Furthermore, Bullshido member mikedebear, who claimed to have trained with Bennest for several years, said that Bennest frequently alluded to these burns, insisting that they had been sustained in combat, when in fact "information I've recieved from those with access to his military records indicate that the injury sustained to his ankle (a softball sized piece of scar tissue) was not due to a combat injury but was in fact a burn from coming in contact with a generator."
Bennest’s lies came to the attention of law enforcement after he submitted an application for veteran’s benefits in which he claimed that he had earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. Accordingly, on March 17th, 2009, Steve Bennest was prosecuted for falsely claiming military honors under the Stolen Valor Act.
The official press release from the US Attorney’s Office, Western District of Washington, states as follows:
SUMNER MAN ORDERED TO PARTICIPATE IN MORAL RECONATION THERAPY FOR MAKING FALSE CLAIMS OF MILITARY MEDALS.
For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.
Man Falsely Claimed He Had Been Awarded Bronze Star and Purple Heart
STEVE A. BENNEST, 57, of Sumner, Washington, was sentenced today in United States District Court in Seattle, Washington, following his federal conviction for Making False Claims of Military Medals and Decorations in violation of federal law.
BENNEST is a former reserve police officer for the Pacific Police Department in Pacific, Washington.
According to court documents, during 2008, BENNEST made multiple claims for military compensation, and made oral and written claims, alleging that he had received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star due to heroic military service and sustained post-traumatic stress disorder.
These claims were false.
The Bronze Star and Purple Heart are of the most highly esteemed medals awarded by the United States military. The Bronze Star is awarded to soldiers who made an "extraordinary contribution to the United States national defense." The Purple Heart is awarded to soldiers who achieved valor and were "wounded in combat by hostile fire." While BENNEST served in the U.S. Army between 1969 and 1972, he was not awarded any of these medals.
Retired Air National Guard Serviceman Steve Pennington told the Court that he recalled observing BENNEST wearing multiple false medals, including a Purple Heart, that he had not earned, and that BENNEST claimed to have served in the elite Special Forces on "classified missions." All of this was false. Pennington told the Court that BENNEST’s actions were "demeaning to all servicemen, but especially those who lost their lives as soldiers."
United States Magistrate Judge Brian A. Tsuchida told BENNEST that his conduct was "shameful and hurtful to other soldiers," and sentenced the defendant to 24 months probation. As part of his probation, BENNEST was ordered to perform community service work and to participate in a structured U.S. Probation program known as "Moral Reconation Therapy," designed to help those with trouble recognizing right from wrong.
This matter came to the attention of federal prosecutors as a result of complaints from the public indicating that BENNEST was wearing unearned military medals and making false claims regarding military service.
This case was prosecuted as part of "Operation Stolen Valor", an ongoing initiative by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General, designed to identify those making false claims of military service and committing monetary fraud upon the United States.
The case was investigated by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General in Seattle and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Ronald J. Friedman.
Steve Bennest’s Response
In March 2008, prior to his fraudulent military record being exposed in court, Bullshido member koreis invited Steve Bennest to participate in an open Bullshido thread devoted to discussing his various claims. He replied by email:
First of all, your e-mail was sent to the wrong person.
Second, I have been teaching the Martial Arts for over 40 years.
Third, the ONLY time my credentials are questioned is when I kick someone out of the school or association for misconduct. I have removed several Probationary Black Belts over the years for date raping students, teaching religion in class and for dating minors. This is the ONLY time my credentials are questioned.
Forth [sic], I am a retired Police Captain and have arrested hundreds of felons. The Internet is full of threads, hate groups, crack pots, and misfits who are unemployed and have nothing better to do with their lives.
I will never go up on your web site or any other web site criticizing others. I am not into hate crimes or misleading the public with jealousy or misguided individuals who want to cause harm to others.
The Internet can not and has never hurt my karate schools.
I am not interested. Please do not e-Mail to the wrong school again.
I do not answer to you or the misfits on threads of the Internet. I know who I am and I know what I have done and it is none of your business. The public are well aware of my good conduct, my credentials and are fully supportive. You have been lied too.
Following his prosecution under Stolen Valor, a number of posters came forward who claimed to know Bennest, many of whom attested to him possessing genuine martial arts skill and advanced karate technique, while also concurring with the court’s judgement that he serially fabricated his resume. While it is impossible to verify the extent of the posters’ relationships to Bennest, several of them were sympathetic towards a man they saw as essentially misguided. As casper33 wrote: "He is actually a pretty good man, he just has some deep need to appear overly successful, which he certainly is not…he lives in a 1978 trailer."
Steve A. Bennest lied about his military experience and was subsequently prosecuted and sentenced under the Stolen Valor Act. He has since taken many of his inflated claims offline and passed the day-to-day running of his karate schools to his son.
1 - Joe Mooney, "Drug Case Dismissed; Evidence Suspected; Officer Accused of Misrepresentation," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 25th August, 1995 (Factiva.com, retrieved 06/13/2010).
2 - Ellis E. Conklin, "King County Won’t File Perjury Charge in Pacific Police Case," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12th December, 1995 (Factiva.com, retrieved 06/13/2010).
3 - Ellis E. Conklin, "All Charges Dropped Against Reserve Pacific Cop," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 19th January, 1996 (Factiva.com, retrieved 06/13/2010).
4 - Associated Press, "Police Pose Risk in Washington Town, Report Concludes," The Oregonian, 10th December, 1995 (Factiva.com, retrieved 06/13/2010).
5 - Ellis E. Conklin, "Pacific’s Drug Unit is Gone, But Not Debate," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 29th December, 1995 (Factiva.com, retrieved 06/13/2010).
Many thanks to Steve Pennington and the POW Network for their work in exposing Bennest, to Matt Stone for his extensive research into the subject, and to Bullshido member BaronVonDingDong for his work in producing this writeup.