On a tour bus trip to Southern California Edison’s Big Creek power plant, event planner Melissa Campbell was passing out snacks to dignitaries when one of them asked her a question that would change both of their lives and make U.S. judicial history.
“Do you know who I am?” asked Xavier Alvarez, an elected member of a local water board, not waiting for an answer.
“I am a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.”
Nearly five years later, Mr. Alvarez, who never served in the military, stands among dozens who have been convicted under the federal Stolen Valor Act, a misdemeanor crime that carries a sentence of up to one year of imprisonment for lying about receiving military honors. After Mr. Alvarez’s appeal, his widely publicized case recently went before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Less attention has been paid to the fate of the woman who helped expose Mr. Alvarez and who brought him to the attention of the FBI. Ms. Campbell, the event planner serving Mr. Alvarez snacks on June 27, 2007, was a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served her country for 10 years.
But after exposing Mr. Alvarez’s medal claim as a hoax — later reporting to the FBI what she viewed as a crime in progress — Ms. Campbell said she wasn’t thanked by her employer. Instead, she said, she was fired.
“I was told it was unprofessional to confront him,” she told The Washington Times in a recent interview. The company did not respond to inquiries about her departure, citing a policy of not commenting on personnel matters. Mr. Alvarez declined through an attorney to comment.
Ms. Campbell now works as a family readiness officer for the military. She has politely declined the offers from a parade of lawyers inquiring whether she would like to file a lawsuit against her former employer. She told them she was not interested. While she still wants her name cleared, she said, she doesn’t want to spend any more time thinking about Mr. Alvarez.
Still, given renewed attention to the case, Ms. Campbell agreed to speak about how Mr. Alvarez’s stories of brave heroism unraveled, setting off an unforeseen chain of events that would lead 3,000 miles away to the nation’s highest court.
Ms. Campbell said she joined the utility company as a security officer and later worked on the corporate events staff. She said she received only good employee reviews and even won one of the company’s highest employee awards.
As a planner in the events department, she helped set up meetings and off-site events, including tours for local politicians and dignitaries at the company’s Big Creek Hydroelectric System plant located in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. The company would give two- or three-day tours of the plant to local officials, she said.
There were dinners and cocktails, as well as talks from specialists on issues important to the company, she said. Ms. Campbell said she had been on plenty of trips. Her job was to coordinate tours and oversee transportation and the guests.
Before boarding the bus to Big Creek, Ms. Campbell said she and Mr. Alvarez made small talk about both having been in the Marine Corps. He said he spent about 25 years in reconnaissance, she said, recalling the first hint of something amiss. She said she had never heard of anyone in reconnaissance for such a long time. Still, she said, she quickly put any doubt out of her mind and went about doing her job.