PORTLAND, Ore. — Michael Bocci told a heartbreaking story. The Tualatin man claimed he was a combat veteran; a U.S. Marine who was left to care for his two young children after his wife died in childbirth.
His story inspired people to donate to his cause.
The problem? It’s not true. The Marine Corps has no record of his service.
“It all seemed believable. Who’s not going to want to help out a veteran who lost his wife during pregnancy?” said Travis Bonser, a Sherwood man who befriended Bocci and gave him money.
A KGW investigation has identified more than two dozen people, including members of community groups, churches and police agencies, who reached out to help Bocci. They provided money, food or other types of assistance.
“To say you’ve been in the military and you’ve been wounded in combat and on, and on and on, in order to bilk money out of people – that guy has to be stopped,” said Lon Getlin of West Linn. “He’s a bad guy.”
Bocci’s shifting story
In August 2016, Bocci was the focus of a news story on the Portland TV station KOIN 6. He claimed that his bomb-sniffing dog had been hit and killed by a car. In the story, Bocci posed with a box containing the ashes of his English Springer Spaniel.
The box was decorated with the official emblem of the U.S. Marine Corps along with the name of his dog, “Sgt. IKAIKA, USMC.”
“I can’t believe he’s in there,” Bocci told KOIN 6. “But once a Marine always a Marine, right?”
KOIN 6 later removed the story from its website, but it was re-posted on another website and shared on Facebook. There was a bank account set up for donations, along with two online fundraising pages.
“He begged me to set up a GoFundMe account, like borderline harassment and was very aggressive about it,” said Bonser. “I feel used.”
Bocci met several women through online dating sites, including OkCupid and PlentyOfFish.
In one online dating profile, there are photos of Bocci holding an infant. The account holder says he’s a pediatrician, “Looking for Mrs. Right.”
Several women complained Bocci posted photos of their children on social media as if they were his own.
One woman, who asked not to be identified, said Bocci shared an elaborate story when they started dating. He claimed he was a single father, a widower and a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. She said Bocci was convincing.
Bocci’s homemade business cards displayed the U.S. Marine Corps logo and the name “Michael Bocci, Marine SGT.”
Several women, who asked their names not be used because of safety concerns, told KGW they recently encountered Bocci at Oregon City-area bars and restaurants. They said he also uses the name Mike Bocci or Michael McGeoffrey.
In December, retired U.S. Marine Lon Getlin was asked to meet with Bocci. Getlin has helped numerous wounded veterans through Lines for Life and Semper Fi Odyssey.
Getlin said Bocci told him he was desperate for money. He repeated his heartbreaking story. He claimed to be a single father with two young children after losing his wife, but added a new twist. Bocci said he’d recently started caring for a 6-month-old baby as a foster parent.
Oregon Department of Human Services has no record of any contact with Bocci.
“The more he talked to me, the more fantastical it all became,” said Getlin.
Getlin said Bocci claimed to have a doctorate degree in psychology from the University of Washington. He said he was a helicopter pilot and received the Purple Heart from a knife wound he suffered in hand-to-hand combat in Mosul, Iraq.
“In the scams he has been pulling, he has not spoken to a military person, so when he did speak to one, he was asked questions that he had not been asked,” said Getlin.
“When I asked him what his rank was in the Marine Corps he said he was an ‘04’ which is a pay grade,” said Getlin. “An ‘04’ is an officer at the fourth rank, which is a major. Nobody talks about his rank as an ‘04’. They say, I’m a major, or a captain or a lieutenant.”
Who is Michael Bocci?
An investigation shows the truth doesn’t line up with all of Bocci’s stories.
The Personnel Management Support Branch in Quantico, Virginia confirmed there is no record of Bocci serving in the U.S. Marine Corps.
KGW could find no record of Bocci ever being married and no evidence to suggest he is caring for any young children.
When confronted by KGW outside of a home in Oregon City, Bocci declined an on-camera interview. He wouldn’t comment on his background or military history.
Michael Bocci’s real name is Michele Bocci. The 34 year old has an Oregon driver’s license.
Records indicate he was born in Germany, but spent part of his childhood in Oregon. According to district records Bocci last attended Tualatin High School in 2000 as an 11th grader.
It appears Bocci spent much of his adult life in Germany, where others claim they have been victimized.
“I am one of many victims in Germany,” said Ilka Liebel.
KGW spoke with four women in Germany who claimed Bocci told them a similar story about serving in the military and losing his wife.
“He asked a lot of women for money, he took loans quite a lot and they didn’t get it back,” said Liebel. “I went to police and filed a charge.”
Bocci has no adult criminal record in Oregon.
A search of police reports shows seven incidents involving Bocci since December 2015. There are no serious crimes. Most were domestic or public assistance calls.
Local police, including Tualatin and West Linn police, confirm they are aware of community concerns surrounding Bocci.
Tualatin Police Chief Bill Steele said his officers have looked into the complaints but found no crime has been committed under Oregon law.
Chief Steele explains Bocci is simply taking the money that is given to him. He’s not offering any type of product or service in exchange.
The case may fall under the Stolen Valor Act of 2013. Federal law makes it a crime for a person to lie about their military service with the intention of getting money, property of any other tangible benefit.
The U.S. Department of Defense is investigating, along with an independent stolen valor advocate.
Several people who gave money to help Bocci say they feel cheated, especially after learning his trail of lies stretches from Germany to Oregon.
“It was his military service background that is a really, soft spot for everyone,” said Travis Bonser. “I fear he’s just going to go somewhere else.”