For more than a decade, Gregory Allen has run a "boot camp"-style gym in San Rafael, California where, he said, he'd prepared more than 100 recruits for military service. He also said he's a retired Marine Corps lieutenant, honored with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. But a watchdog's tip to authorities revealed something else: Allen never served in the Marines.
"I thought he was a squared away, straight up guy," retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. John Sammons said.
Sammons knew Allen for a decade, reports CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford.
"I did my own due diligence. I proved ... he was, in fact, a fraud," Sammons said. "I suppose you could say I was shocked."
U.S. military documents obtained by CBS News show Allen enlisted in the Navy in 1968, but was discharged after eight months because of a knee injury. There is no evidence that he ever served in the Marines. There are even reports he has a felony conviction and served jail time for violating a restraining order.
Allen told CBS San Francisco affiliate KPIX he's "sorry if he's hurt anyone," but did not admit any guilt. Still, Allen has many local supporters in an affluent Marin County neighborhood.
"He's been a stellar person in this community. He gets kids ready for boot camp," Allen's friend Dan Thomas said.
One boot camp member, who asked not to be identified, told CBS News: "Allen was available day or night if someone had a problem, He helped elderly veterans, ran programs to send troops overseas supplies."
Still, for those who served honorably in the military, Allen's good actions do not outweigh his alleged lies.
The Marines call themselves "the few" and "the proud," and only a few can claim they're part of that elite group - which is why so many both inside and outside the Corps are calling Allen's alleged actions unethical and unforgivable.
"One of the medals he wears is a Bronze Star with a Combat V. I wear a Bronze Star with a Combat V that I earned. To me, that is offensive. It stole my valor," Sammons said.
The "Stolen Valor Act of 2013" was passed to prosecute those who fraudulently claim certain military honors for personal profit. The website GuardianofValor.com is devoted to exposing such cases. The site's CEO Anthony Anderson said Allen is a prime candidate for prosecution.
"His whole persona was a lie. He took money from people based on false claims," Anderson said. "He disrespected a lot of people when he claimed the title of 'Marine.'"
CBS News reached out to the FBI to confirm it is investigating Allen but has not heard back. If convicted under the Stolen Valor Act of 2013, Allen could be fined and face a year in prison.