A paraded around the Erie County Fair on Veterans Appreciation Day this summer, authorities said, pretending to be in the Marine Corps and wearing the dress-blue uniform, complete with a sword.
A year earlier, he allegedly showed up at charity events in West Seneca and Eden dressed in a police uniform, claiming to be a federal law officer.
On Thursday, 47-year-old Michael R. Schrenk’s flirtation with wearing uniforms ended with New York State Police announcing they had raided his house earlier this week and collected evidence to back up two charges of second-degree criminal impersonation of a member of the U.S. Department of Defense.
Schrenk’s first mistake occurred when he stopped to chat with two young Marines who, out of respect for his alleged rank of staff sergeant, approached him to say hello. They immediately noticed that his uniform wasn’t quite in order, according to State Police Lt. Kevin M. Barnas.
A white cord draped over his shoulder had no place there. The way a full chest of medals and ribbons was displayed was improper. The sword he carried was not the type issued to a non-commissioned officer. He also claimed to be of the rank of staff sergeant, said police, who added that this did not add up, given the length of time he claimed to be a Marine.
Before Schrenk parted company with the recruiters, one of them, Barnas said, had the presence of mind to snap a photo of him, which was later passed along to Trooper Michael J. Niezgoda, who is regarded as something of a resident expert on the Marine Corps among state troopers.
Niezgoda, a highly decorated Marine wounded in Iraq and member of the Marine Corps Reserves’ local recruiting command, worked with State Police Investigator Thomas Swanson on other incidents where Schrenk allegedly went out in public claiming to be someone he wasn’t.
At the charity events in the summer of 2013, he appeared in a federal police uniform.
“It’s tough to get into his head on the motivational factor at this point. But it was at the charity events he acted as if he was a police officer,” said Barnas, adding, however, that Schrenk did not take any police actions.
The investigation also discovered that Schrenk had served in the Armed Forces, though not in the Marines. “Ironically, he served with honor in the United States Navy,” Niezgoda said.
Assisted by West Seneca police in executing the search warrant on Wednesday, state troopers recovered numerous items from Schrenk’s home, bolstering the case that he misrepresented himself, Barnas said.
In addition to the impersonation charges, Schrenk also was charged with unlawfully wearing a military uniform and unlawfully displaying a military rank — both prohibited under New York State Military Law. Arraigned in Hamburgand West Seneca courts, Schrenk was released on his own recognizance and is scheduled to return to West Seneca Court on Friday morning for further proceedings.
Niezgoda urged anyone with additional information on previous incidents involving Schrenk to call State Police at the Clarence Station, 759-6831.
By Lou Michel, The Buffalo News, N.Y.
(2013) Stolen Valor Act