NAPLES — A Collier judge on Wednesday found a 75-year-old veteran who pretended to be a highly decorated Vietnam prisoner of war guilty of violating probation by committing grand theft and exaggerating his past again.
Circuit Judge Fred Hardt made his ruling after hearing from a senior citizen who rented a Cocoa Beach condo to Raymond John Gauthier, posted his $500 bond when he was arrested in August 2007 for violating probation, posted her condo as collateral, and paid $15,000 for his attorney fees — “maxing out” her home equity line of credit.
Judith Ann Donaldson testified that was because Gauthier, formerly of East Naples, told her he was an Army Ranger, a Vietnam veteran, had numerous medals, including the Purple Heart and Bronze Star — just like her deceased husband — and that he was a POW
Gauthier, however, portrayed Donaldson as romantically interested in him, but he turned down her advances. He maintained she made up the story after learning of his past to get her money back.
“It appears to the court that the testimony of Mr. Gauthier lacks credibility, substantially…,” Hardt said after hearing from three witnesses and closing arguments from Assistant State Attorney Jim Molenaar and defense attorney Adam Oosterbaan. “The testimony of Mrs. Donaldson was clearly credible.”
“... She clearly felt empathy for Mr. Gauthier, even after she knew what his charges were and he professed his innocence,” Hardt added.
He set sentencing for Sept. 30 and ordered Gauthier, who was charged in Brevard County last October, to remain in Collier County jail. He still faces the underlying felony charges in Brevard County, grand theft and scheme to defraud.
The guilty ruling pleased the 15 veterans who attended the nearly three-hour probation hearing. They’d followed the case from the beginning, Gauthier’s first arrest on Dec. 27, 2006, when he was charged with being a common cheat, a felony involving his application for POW license plates.
Before his bogus history was revealed, Gauthier was a familiar figure at veteran events, wearing a uniform covered in medals and recounting stories about being a Vietnam POW. He did serve in the Army and Air Force and was trained as an Army Ranger, but only earned a sharpshooter award and the National Defense Service Medal — something all officers were given.
In April 2007, Hardt found him guilty of being a gross common cheat, sentenced him to five years’ probation, and ordered him to publish an apology and spend all veteran holidays working at the jail. He also ordered him to destroy all bogus military documents, not to wear military uniforms, and hand in all fake medals and memorabilia.
In February 2008, he sentenced Gauthier to 90 days in jail for violating probation after officers in Brevard County found a phony DD-214 military form hidden in his closet in August 2007 that listed fake enlistment dates and medals.
When Donaldson took the stand Wednesday, she glared at Gauthier, who sat at the defense table just feet away. That prompted veterans to excitedly whisper, “She’s staring him down.”
She detailed how Gauthier called her in May 2007 after seeing a “For Rent” sign. He filled out an application and she called, citing concern over his judgment for nonpayment of medical bills.
“He told me his son had cancer and he had to sell his house in Key West to pay for his chemotherapy,” Donaldson testified, later telling the judge she learned his son hadn’t died of cancer.
She said Gauthier told her about his military past and showed her a photo of him in uniform at a veterans’ event. “I connected to that right away,” Donaldson said, noting her deceased husband, Robert G. Davis, a Vietnam veteran, died of complications from Agent Orange in November 2004. “... I felt a closeness to him because of that.”
He didn’t always pay rent, so she let him do odd jobs. He told her and her husband, Charles Donaldson, of his POW experience. “He said he was lashed with bamboo,” Donaldson testified. “He pulled up his sleeves to show us the scars he got as a POW in Vietnam.”
When he was arrested in August 2007, she said, he called her about 20 times from jail, asking for help. “He explained he couldn’t spend five years in jail, not after being in this little grass hut when he was a POW.”
Although she'd heard the allegations, she believed his claims of innocence. "I was just devastated for him, like how do they do this to a POW," she said. "We believed everything he told us."
She knew her dead husband would have supported a comrade. "I thought about his war record and he was so proud of being an Army Ranger," she said, her voice cracking as she began to cry.
Gauthier paid off the $500 bond by doing electrical work for her, she said. When his violation of probation hearing was set in Collier, she called him that morning to ensure he showed up and she wouldn't be responsible for his full bond. But he told her he'd overdosed on pills and was committing suicide.
After he was hospitalized, she said the emergency room nurse told her it wasn't a life or death situation, although Gauthier claimed he'd nearly died.
He paid off the bond by doing electrical work, she said, adding that she didn’t immediately report the fraud because she was traumatized and hospitalized. A year went by and the anniversary of her husband’s death, which gave her strength.
“I didn’t want him to do this to anybody else,” she testified, her voice cracking as she held back tears.
When Gauthier testified in his orange jail jumpsuit, he detailed her repeated romantic advances, that she drank, smoked pot, and had a criminal past; it’s not supported by criminal records.
He testified he always paid rent with cash, and immediately repaid the $500 bond, but had no receipts. He denied saying he was a decorated veteran and contended he did lots of free electrical work for her and would have paid off his debt, but she kicked him out and he had two heart attacks.
Veterans, most from the Marine Corps League of Naples, plan to attend the sentencing. “I think the district attorney did an excellent job and covered all the facts,” said Bob Knee, a Vietnam veteran. “I wish he could have gotten a death sentence.”
To read the original sentencing story, go here: