Fake veteran targets churches: ‘He's preying on people's heart strings'

A man exposed as a military imposter in a KGW investigation is still trying to trick people into giving him money. His latest target: churches. 

Military impostor still seeking donations None

A man exposed as a military impostor in a KGW investigation has changed his story and he’s still trying to trick people into giving him money. 

In the latest twist, Michele Bocci has been soliciting donations from churches and church members.

“The story might vary a little but it is pretty much the same thing,” explained Dave Hughes, operations pastor at Westside: A Jesus Church in Southwest Portland. “It’s disappointing because you want to help people. You don’t want to be suspicious.”  

KGW investigates: Oregon man claims to be veteran with sad story

Over the past three weeks, roughly a half-dozen churches in Portland, Beaverton and McMinnville reported that Bocci approached them, asking for money.  

The 34 year old told a heartbreaking story about being a single father after his wife died.

Pastor Hughes said Bocci claimed he was living in his car with his four-year old daughter named ‘Zoey.’

“Things weren’t adding up. He wasn’t giving me any information. I asked for his last name, his email, his home address. He wouldn’t give it to me,” explained Hughes, who declined Bocci’s request for money after pressing for answers.

“He works a great story,” explained Pastor Paul Richter of Cedar Mill Bible Church, who also decided not to give Bocci money.  

Bocci told Richter he was a pediatrician who had just moved from Germany to take a job at hospital in Portland. Bocci said the job fell through, so instead he’d accepted a position as a head janitor at a tech company, explained the pastor. 

Bocci told the pastor he was caring for his 3-year-old daughter and needed a loan to buy a car.

“It got really fishy when he started talking about exceptions in our benevolence policy. He knew the policy well. He knew exactly what he wanted,” said Richter.

On February 4, Bocci walked into the free health clinic at the First Baptist Church in McMinnville.  

“He acted quite desperate,” explained Yamhill resident Jane Kristof, who was working as a volunteer at the clinic. “He told me he was going to be kicked out of his apartment on Monday. He had a 4-year-old daughter and his wife had died of cancer,” said Kristof, the mother of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

Kristof said she would loan Bocci money to help pay his rent. She wrote him a check for $705.

“He said he would give it back on Friday,” explained Kristof, who filed a complaint in small claims court against Bocci because he didn’t pay her back.

“I should have been more suspicious,” she said. “He was somehow very plausible. I guess he was a good actor.”

KGW started investigating complaints about Michele Bocci in December. Bocci 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.

A KGW investigation found 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.

The U.S. Department of Defense confirmed Bocci never served in the U.S. Marine Corps. 

There is no indication Bocci is currently caring for any children.

“It’s unfortunate because he’s preying on people’s heart strings. He’s pulling out these sad stories,” said Sheriff Tim Svenson of Yamhill County. 

Sheriff Svenson explained Bocci isn’t breaking the law by telling a fictitious story. It’s not a crime to lie. People are willingly giving him money and don’t expect any product or service in return. 

It’s similar to a panhandler asking for money for food, then spending the donated cash on something else. 

Police in McMinnville, Tualatin, Oregon City and West Linn say they have received complaints about Bocci.

Bocci has declined multiple requests for an on-camera interview with KGW.

On January 31, Tualatin Police arrested Bocci for unrelated crimes of stalking and theft, both misdemeanors. Prosecutors did not provide further details about the alleged incident and dropped the charges a day later.

“There was not enough evidence to proceed on the incidents of stalking and theft that were reported to us,” explained Matthew Hall, a deputy district attorney in Washington County.

On February 15, a Yamhill County judge rejected Bocci’s request to officially change his name to Michael McDougall. 

“Because of information brought to the court’s attention that there might be some fraudulent activities and misrepresentation that you may have been involved in the collection of funds,” explained Yamhill County Circuit Court Judge John Collins.

For now, police admit, their hands are tied. Officers can’t stop him from asking for money by telling people a heartbreaking story that doesn’t appear to be true.

“As soon as he commits a crime, we will hold him accountable,” said Sheriff Svenson.

Read past reports: Oregon military imposter arrested for stalking and theft

Military imposter’s request to change his name rejected by judge

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