PLANT CITY (FOX 13) - A Polk County man who claimed to be a highly-trained, high-ranking military veteran was nothing more than a "con-man" and a "disgrace" and is now in jail, Sheriff Grady Judd said Thursday.
Detectives said Kyle Barwan, 27, met Katie Brees of Seffner on the website Plenty of Fish and told her he was a major in the U.S. Army Special Forces and just returned from a five-year deployment.
"I thought meeting somebody with military background would be a good thing," she said.
During the next two weeks, she and Barwan became quick friends. Brees said she gave him $60 after he asked for money to buy a video game controller that he could use in a video game tournament that he claimed would benefit a fallen soldier.
"It's just because it was for a fallen soldier and I thought, 'that's something important,'" she said.
Barwan even celebrated Christmas Eve with Brees' family. But during the holiday, Barwan's stories began to unravel. Brees said Barwan's phone rang and the number came up as "U.S. Military" or "U.S. Government." Barwan then told Brees and her family he had just been promoted to Captain.
Her family, however, has a military background; her grandfather fought in the Korean War. She said things seemed fishy so she Googled Barwan's name and found a blog that tracks cases of stolen valor that detailed his two previous arrests in Kentucky and Illinois for similar crimes. Sheriff Judd said Barwan has even spent five years in federal prison.
"He even got my 83-year-old grandfather to semi-believe him. And to a person that was actually in the military that's hurtful," she told FOX 13. "That's what kind of killed me the most, not the money, is that you lied to my grandfather."
Brees contacted the Polk County Sheriff's Office, which arrested Barwan and charged him with a third-degree felony for impersonating a member of the military and soliciting funds.
"You can call him 'Kyle-the-crook' because that's what he is; 'Kyle-the-fake,' 'Kyle-the-fraud,'" said Judd. "But he's not 'Kyle-the-military-hero.'"
Brees said she doesn't have anything to say to Barwan anymore and she hopes he's learned his lesson.
"He's not even worth my breath," she said. "I think he should just rot in jail, truthfully. I feel like if you're going to do this to me and you almost duped my elderly grandfather and you've don't worse things to other people, how far are you willing to go with this?"
FOX 13 stopped by the home in Plant City where Barwan was arrested but no one came out of the house to comment.