Fake Navy SEAL Busted in San Bernardino

A Rhode Island felon arrested in San Bernardino faces prison time in California and Rhode Island for possessing firearms

By Heather Navarro
|  Tuesday, Apr 23, 2013  |  Updated 11:57 AM PDT
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Fake Navy SEAL Busted in San Bernardino

Don Shipley

William James Burley faces prison time after being arrested for illegally possessing firearms, authorities said Monday, April 22, 2013. He allegedly has a long history impersonating a Navy SEAL, Homeland Security Agent, and a law enforcement officer, according to authorities.

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A convicted felon accused of impersonating a Navy SEAL and law enforcement officer pleaded not guilty in San Bernardino Superior Court Wednesday for illegal possession of firearms, authorities said Monday.

William James Burley, 33, is currently being held in West Valley Detention Center in San Bernardino awaiting preliminary trial after a sheriff’s deputy discovered weapons in Burley’s trunk at a traffic stop for expired tags in February.

Burley claimed he was a federal agent, and flashed a Homeland Security badge at the deputy, said Chris Condon, a spokesman for the Probation Department in San Bernardino.

“The deputy popped his trunk and found firearms, body armor and other law enforcement identifications,” Condon said.

One of the IDs found was from New Mexico, where Burley violated his probation by working as a police officer with a local police department for four months. The agency fired Burley when background checks revealed he was a felon, according to Tiffani Lawyer, a probation officer in San Bernardino who worked on his case.

Burley served two years of a 10-year sentence in Rhode Island for conspiracy to commit robbery in 2006.

The deputy arrested Burley on suspicion of being a felon and for having a firearm in his vehicle, however Burley later posted bail for that arrest.

He was arrested again at the San Bernardino Probation Department office on March 1, Condon said. The department obtained a search warrant for Burley’s Yucaipa, Calif. home and found more weapons and body armor.

Burley will face prison time in California if convicted. He could then be extradited to Rhode Island where he could face up to eight years in prison.

Burley will be assigned a public defender the day before his hearing, Lawyer said.

Burley allegedly had a history of impersonating a Navy SEAL, and conned people out of money, according to Don Shipley, a former SEAL with 24 years of experience who tracked and attempted to out Burley in a Youtube video posted in December 2012.

Burley was ousted from a naval apprentice school for “bad conduct” according to a discharge from active duty notice provided to NBC4 by Shipley.

“He served mere months before getting the boot,” Shipley said.

Shipley interrogated William Burley in the Youtube video (Warning: graphic language) posted in December, asking him when he graduated, who he graduated with and why his certificate wasn’t signed by an officer.

Shipley accessed a roster of graduates while on the phone with Burley in the video, fact-checking each assertion Burley made.

“You did not graduate in July 2011,” Shipley said in the video while speaking with Burley. “No class did.”

Shipley, based in Chesapeake, Virginia, said he has worked for part of his life to bring light to a rampant SEAL impersonation problem, and says as many as there are “300 impersonators for every SEAL.”

“Bill Burley has made a career out of screwing people,” Shipley said.

Deputy District Attorney Lisa Muscari, who prosecuted Burley in a previous possession of firearms case, said Burley’s history was not addressed in that case the week prior.

“Some other people have told me he may have been impersonating a Navy SEAL,” Muscari said. “My case is closed, and nothing came up about that.”

Burley’s next hearing is scheduled for April 25.

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